Bukidnon power coops: we have “fiscal autonomy” ; Provincial board: “we have oversight power”

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 March) — Bukidnon’s two electric power cooperatives have asserted fiscal autonomy as the Bukidnon provincial board questioned their loan applications for additional capital to improve their capacity.

The First Bukidnon Electric Cooperative and the Second Bukidnon Electric Cooperate asserted their fiscal autonomy as private corporations,  Fibeco board president Raul Alkuino said during the Provincial Board’s session on March 16.

The two firms were invited to shed light on their combined P1.1 billion loan applications for capital expenditures, following their request for the board to issue a certification in relation to their multi-million loan applications.

But Vice Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri echoed the voice of  members that the provincial board has oversight power over them as they serve their constituents.

Majority floor leader Nemesio Beltran Jr. said electric cooperatives are not really private corporations but are “quasi-public” institutions owing to their roles as public utilities.

The two firms announced they were eyeing at least P1.1 billion loans from different sources to fund capital expenditures to improve their distribution network.

Earlier, Buseco general manager Edgardo Masongsong told MindaNews regulation of power rates is the Energy Regulatory Commission’s turf, not the provincial board’s.

But board members said the loans will make power rates in the province even more costly to the detriment of consumers.

Masongsong admitted the expected increase but showed it might not be as high as the board members fear.

He said the present rate of P7.15 per kilowatt hour for Buseco will increase only by about P0.20 after they get the P136 million loan from the World Bank through the Bank of the Philippine Islands and the LGUCC Guarantee Corporation.

In a press conference earlier this week, Masongsong said the two firms have successfully brought down systems losses, are prompt payers to suppliers and are Category A or efficient power distributors.

But Zubiri wants Fibeco to explain why it allegedly incurred net losses in 2008 and 2009 and yet was allegedly able to afford millions worth of benefits to officers.  Alkuino rebutted that the amount included benefits given to employees.

The board members agreed to hold an executive session at an unscheduled date, which was welcomed  by the power firms.

But the venue again, became an issue.

“We will invite you in one of our board meetings,” Alkuino said. But Zubiri insisted that the executive session be held in the provincial board’s session hall.

Last year, the provincial board insisted the two firms pay the provincial government first their arrears. Fibeco owes about P23 million real property taxes while Buseco owes P20 million.

In a press conference on March 14, two days before their provincial board appearance, the two firms said they paid P5 million each as down payment and vowed to pay the remaining amounts on installment basis. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)