I have generally refrained from providing commentary regarding BEC and ZNS since demitting office as chairman of the two state enterprises allowing those presently in the offices every possible opportunity to be successful in their efforts. However, I recently relented and provided my view regarding BEC’s proposal to bring a measure of relief to some 7,000 households presently without electricity service, such service having been disconnected for non-payment.
Having provided commentary to the foregoing, I feel compelled to comment on two related issues – BEC’s termination of the contracts of 10 temporary contract disconnecters and engagement of 22 permanent pensionable disconnecters in their place; and the corporation’s increase in disconnection/reconnection fee to $25 from $20.
The contract disconnecters were engaged on a temporary basis during my tenure as chairman to help reduce a huge backlog of outstanding disconnections that were not being addressed by the permanent pensionable disconnecters on BEC’s staff. Productivity by the rookie contract workers immediately eclipsed that of BEC’s permanent pensionable workers. In most instances, productivity by the contract workers proved to be more than double that of the permanent pensionable employees.
The explanation offered by the department’s manager for the contract workers’ vastly superior performance was that the temporary workers were prepared to scale walls when gates were locked, confront bad dogs and generally go into areas where permanent pensionable employees were unwilling to go.
In my view, the contract workers’ performance was vastly superior because they fully understood and appreciated that their capacity to earn depended on their willingness to work. The permanent pensionable employees, on the other hand, were seemingly quite content with their BEC salary, widely regarded by many as being opulent. Moreover, accountability appeared to be a word totally foreign to the permanent pensionable employees notwithstanding the fact that performances were well below general industry standards.
Receivables declined significantly within a short period of time following engagement of the temporary contract workers.
The contract workers received no salary and none of the other generous benefits BEC’s permanent pensionable employees receive. The 22 recently hired permanent pensionable disconnecters will not only enjoy a BEC employee salary but will also receive significant benefits, such as health insurance and pension (both presently 100 percent paid for by BEC), sick pay, vacation pay, compassionate leave, etc., that BEC employees receive.
The contract workers drove their own vehicles and were responsible for the total cost to care for and upkeep their vehicles. BEC, no doubt, would not only have had to purchase 22 vehicles for the recently hired permanent pensionable disconnecters, but would also have to absorb the cost for the care, operation and maintenance of such vehicles, inclusive of insurance, inspection and licensing, gasoline purchases, etc., as well as the major cost for periodic vehicle replacements.
The BEC chairman has noted that engagement of the 22 permanent pensionable workers and separation of the 10 temporary contract workers has yielded significant savings for the corporation. I commend him for the savings being achieved. With BEC apparently headed for a mammoth $50 million loss this year many more significant savings will no doubt be needed.
As regards BEC’s increase in its disconnection/reconnection fee from $20 to $25, a fee that tends to disproportionately affect the less fortunate, the poorest in the country who routinely suffer disconnection of electricity service, it is noteworthy that BEC was previously paying the temporary contract disconnecters $15 for the combination disconnection ($10) and reconnection ($5) service while charging its customers a fee of $20.
What justification did BEC advance for the chairman to have given the green light for the fee to be increased by a significant 25 percent to $25?
The chairman’s pronouncement that BEC has realized significant savings as a result of terminating the 10 temporary contract workers and engaging 22 permanent pensionable employees indicates that BEC’s cost for the disconnection/reconnection activity must now be well below the $15 that was previously being paid for the activity.
Though faced with the daunting prospect of a corporation poised to potentially lose $50 million during the current financial year, the chairman will no doubt cause a serious re-examination of the justification that was advanced for the fee increase to take place. Surely if it is now costing BEC well below $15 to effect a combination disconnection/reconnection, there seems no justification whatsoever for the frequently disconnected poorer category of customers to have to continue bearing the burden of the 25 percent higher fee imposed not long after the current chairman assumed office.
By: Michael R. Moss