President, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is the national multi-sector regulator that, like all WAREG Members, has had to face big challenges in all regulated sectors in the past year, because of the primary shock caused by the COVID -19 pandemics. What was your best plan for absorbing such shock?
I am very proud to share with you that the Energy Regulatory Commission was the first institution to act proactively immediately after the President of the Republic of North Macedonia declared a state of emergency in March 2020. It was the first time for our country to face this specific decision – declaring a state of emergency, because it was a specific political moment – the assembly was dissolved, new elections were announced… Yet, in accordance with its position the ERC issued instructions for the companies that are under its competence to absorb the primary shock and it demanded flexibility to be provided regarding the payment of electricity, heating, and water. The companies demonstrated a high civil responsibility and during the first months we agreed to provide bill payment in installments without interest for the consumers that face difficulties. The fundamental constitutional right to water access was never an issue. When there were defects in segments that are our responsibility, we were perfectly coordinated and could fix relevant problems fast.
During this unique period of state of emergency and pandemics, the ERC was able to manage a successful internal organization. Maybe our advantage is that we are a small organization which is adequately divided by sectors, hence we can be very efficient when dealing with consumer complaints and dilemmas.
The continuous electricity and district heating supply, as well as the oil derivatives supply was carried out at a normal pace even though the conditions were extraordinary.
The water sector has been your competence for a long period. However, can we say it is a “true” competence when the final decision on tariffs is not yours? Is the current legal framework an advantage or a disadvantage for you?
The Law on Water Services Price Determination as well as other adequate legal decisions in this segment are the foundations of our operations regarding water services. This is the legal framework that allows commotion when determining the final price. To be clear, at the moment, the ERC determines the minimum and maximum price, and then Public Water Supply Enterprises and the municipality councils have their final say regarding the amount of water bills, and more often municipalities decide on a regular basis to accept the minimal offered tariff and by doing so they reduce the possibilities for collecting investment assets in the new water supply infrastructure. The problem is that our minimal tariff is not an incentive to make the needed investments. There is only one survival method of public municipal enterprises. In the past period there were cases when some cities of North Macedonia remained without water, i.e., there was no water supply because the pipes were older than 90 years. We must invest in this water infrastructure. That is why we insist to take over the authority for final price formation where the possibility for new future investments that are necessary for sustainable functioning of water supply system shall be taken into consideration.
President, you righty say that the main goal of ERC is to obtain full authority in determining the final price of water and wastewater services. What are the other goals that you intend to achieve soon regarding this segment?
In this period the ERC shall continue to implement the activities that are in accordance with the provisions of the Law on Water Services Price Determination.
The key activities of 2021 shall be oriented to the application of water services price and to the harmonization of water service tariffs with the implementation of business plans of water service providers, that are adopted for our first regulatory period.
Our focus shall also be the implementation of obligations and competencies that are provided in the new Law on Waste Management. Additionally, this competence is a new challenge for us and as such it should be based most adequately upon the new acts which shall be ready in the following period. Namely, by adopting a new Law on Waste Management, the establishment of a functional system for regional waste management and construction of regional landfills shall be provided, and at the same time all non-standard landfills and waste dumps shall be closed. At the same time, regional waste collection, transport, selection, and recycling as well as use and treatment shall be provided, which shall increase the level of health and environment protection, and all of this means a step ahead toward the provision of circular economy for this sector.
Mr. President, what is your perception regarding the international activities in the field of water services, and what is your message taking into consideration your fully-fledged membership in WAREG?
Beside the limiting factors and the new reality that is provoked by the global COVID -19 pandemic that allowed communication and participation in international events only via digital platforms, the Energy Regulatory Commission has had a successful year from an international perspective. The year of 2020, beside the active participation in current international associations and in their operational institutions from the field of energy and water services, was marked by the participation in several successful international projects with concrete and remarkable results.
As a fully-fledged member, the Energy Regulatory Commission contributes in WAREG’s organization and functioning. Through our active participation in the activities of this organization, we contribute, and on the other hand we gain the possibility to receive all necessary information related to the EU legislation in the domain of water services regulation and IPA program implementation in this sector.
It is also important to note the possibility to exchange information and experience regarding specific issues in the water sector, and to share views the challenges and the conditions that create the need for cooperation between the regulatory authorities from different European countries. This process is organized at the best way possible by WAREG, which represents a unique association in Europe, to foster cooperation and coordination of activities for achieving the above-mentioned goals.