November 3, 2007
Last October 31, 2007, many places in Naga City experienced long brownouts, some lasting until the next day. This was after two days of continuous rains and moderate winds swept through the city and incapacitated some power lines. The weather disturbance was quite weak and the damage it brought about was not extensive. The affected residents therefore expected that the power service would be immediately restored. And I thought so, too.
But Casureco II, our electric cooperative, adding further to its reputation of being insensitive to the plight of its member-consumers, again took its sweet time to mobilize its men and work on restoring the power service. The OIC-General Manager could not be located. The customer service telephone number provided over radio station DWNX was not in service. Claims that linemen were working on the affected areas were disputed by the residents of said areas themselves. No repair crew were on sight in many of them. A sitio near the residence of the Board President of the cooperative endured more than a day with no electricity.
What ails Casureco II? For one, it has grown to be so callous that it no longer cares what the member-consumers say. According to an insider, the incident last October 31, 2007 happened because Casureco II management compelled some of the maintenance crew to take leaves of absences because they were running in the barangay elections. Casureco II management, for the first time, and with hardly any contingency plan at all, complied with a NEA memorandum on the matter. (How I wish the Board and Management would also comply with NEA Circulars that will benefit the consumers!) We were therefore being taken for a ride when the cooperative assured us that power will restored immediately. Surely, they knew that once the rainy season sets in, transformer and line malfunctions become more frequent. It is just that they hardly care at all.
The Board and Management of Casureco II has been hounded by allegations of mismanagement, misspending, abuse of authority and overpricing in its procurements. NEA, in fact, ordered the cooperative to take back the money that the Board granted to the party list group, APEC, through the Bicol Electric Cooperatives Asscoiation (BECA). The Board’s explanation explanation was full of holes. In fact, the disbursement is now the subject of an administrative case against management and members of the Board. I presume this is only the tip of the iceberg. I recall that the OIC-General Manager admitted over the radio that surplus transformers were passed on as new ones by their supplier. After these were discovered, he claimed that price discounts were negotiated to cover up for the deficiency. Something is clearly wrong when suppliers pass on surplus units as new ones. But it is much worse when Casureco II merely gives them a pat on the wrist and figures out a way to “fix the problem”. If the report of its internal auditors is true, the infractions committed by management and the Board are more serious than the BECA donation. I supposed it will be a matter of time before these becomes public.
What then needs to be done? I believe it is high time that member-consumers consider the abolition of the Board and return the cooperative’s management to NEA. While this may seem contrary to the tenets of promoting more accountability in the cooperative’s engagement with the consumers, it is the best thing that can happen given the kind of service that the cooperative is providing. There was a time when instead of elected members, sectoral representatives were nominated by religious and socio-civic groups in its coverage area. While it may seem “not so democratic”, the consumers were better served by them. (MNWD, which unquestionably, is run much better than Casureco II, does not have elected members sitting in their Board.) I hope I can convince the Sangguniang Panlungsod and the other concerned groups in the city to move for a NEA take-over of our electric cooperative. By now, it is no surprise that the members of the board are perceived to be more after the perks, privileges and “other interests” rather than the interest of the consumers of the utility firm. The way things are going, it certainly will get worse before it gets better. Thus, the need for us to unsettle the cooperative and advocate something drastic while time is still on our side.
For a time, I thought that there was an even chance for reform to take root in our cooperative. The new members of the Board promised before they got elected that they would make the operation of the utility firm more transparent and responsive to the needs of the consuming public. I recall when Mr. Lito del Rosario was Director, he pushed fo some drastic changes, including the participation of the Naga City People’s Council in the affairs of the cooperative. He wanted an NGO observer in the procurement process. He wanted transparency in the operations of Casureco II. It was a losing battle. Mr. del Rosario ended his term without getting these changes across. Almost all of the members of the Board advocated for reforms when they ran for office. Alas, once they got their bearings, they became part of the status quo. Seems like the “Lucifer effect” coming into play — something endemically wrong is really in that Board Room. Seemingly good people, with the best intentions, suddenly now losing their bearings and forgetting why they wanted to be in that board room in the first place.
Like many of its member-consumers, I have lost hope that things will get better with the way things are now. It is therefore incumbent upon us to act if we feel aggrieved. I doubt if Casureco II and NEA will act on its own, without our behest. In the interest of its consumers, I hope they prove me wrong!