News

Story Highlights
  • Trust in Government and in energy sector institutions is low across ECA region.
  • Citizens often do not associate energy sector reforms with improved quality of services.
  • Improving the financial sustainability of the energy sector has to be accompanied by better communication systems and transparency measures for consumers.
Building Trust for Energy Subsidy Reforms: Perspectives from Europe and Central Asia
By Sophia V. Georgieva

Across ECA, focus groups show that users are still skeptical that energy subsidy and tariff reforms will result in improved services. In a previous blog we discussed how households cope with the increasing cost of energy. Here we share some of their views and attitudes on the reforms overall and how we can work to mitigate those reactions.

Citizens often do not understand or trust the motivations behind energy sector reforms. Rising energy costs are believed to be a result of corruption, the undue influence of monopolies, and/or the profit-seeking behavior of private companies. The majority of citizens interviewed do not believe that revenues generated by higher tariffs will result in better services.

Mistrust is deepened when users do not see a tangible improvement in services and encounter a poor quality of customer service.

Across the region, there remains limited communication between citizens and energy service providers. There is a culture of unresponsive customer service, weak protection of consumer rights, and the absence of grievance and redress processes. Advancements in these areas will set a better environment for social sustainability of subsidy reforms.

Communicate advancements in sector transparency and accountability:

As the sector takes measures to improve governance and conform to international performance standards, these measures should be communicated to the public. It will be important for the governments to emphasize the social and economic results of a reform, rather than just documenting the process of reform implementation. Mobilizing civil society actors in monitoring and evaluating the reforms could contribute to an increased perception of transparency and to the reforms’ effectiveness. Given the technical nature of energy reforms, it is important to engage and build the capacity of stakeholders that can translate complex messages to the public and contribute to monitoring sector accountability. Such initiatives should utilize a variety of communications channels (both formal and informal), be drafted in minority languages, and reach out to groups where information on government policies may be more scarce, such as residents of remote regions, of regions that may be particularly affected by reforms, minority groups, among others.

Improve interaction with providers:

These measures can strengthen providers’ capacity and incentives to ensure a clear and well-enforced grievance redress mechanism. Staff can be trained to address customer concerns quickly and effectively. Introducing simple and informative bills—for example, ones that that include the household’s monthly consumption, comparisons to previous months’ or years’ consumption, average consumption of other households in the area—can go a long way in improving trust in the billing process while also encouraging more energy efficient behavior. Bolstering consumers’ confidence that they are being fairly charged could also make future price increases more acceptable. Citizen feedback surveys, public debates, and analysis are among the many tools that could be developed to improve public outreach.

 

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