News 18 Dec 12

Albania Accuses CEZ of Inciting Social Unrest

The Albanian government threatened on Sunday with criminal prosecution the Czech power giant CEZ for cutting electricity to local customers, who have held a series of protests over the last week.  

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
A barber holding a candle, gives a haircut for a customer at his shop | Photo by : Bikas Das/AP

“We call on CEZ Shperndarje to not provoke social unrest through its actions,” said in a press conference Deputy Minister of Economy Enno Bozdo. “The refusal to offer a necessary public service is criminal offense,” he added.

Bozdo’s comment came after a series of protest were held over the past week in Tirana’s suburbs by local customers who were left without power for days. In of the protest on Thursday, in the area of Lapraka, hundreds of local residents blocked the highway connecting Tirana with Durres, enraged with extended the power cuts.

Albania’s electricity sector is dogged by electricity theft and large number of customers who do not pay their bills. A net importer of electricity the government has kept the power own by subsidizing costly imports through the state-budget.

In a statement on Monday CEZ said that the power outages were due to a combination of bad weather and illegal connections to the grid.

“We have mobilized more than 800 employees in order to fix in immediate and efficient manner every defect,” CEZ said.  

When CEZ privatized the local utility OSSH in 2009 it promised to cut losses in the grid and invest more than €200 million. However, losses in the grid since then have increased and estimated 45 per cent of the electricity distributed is not billed.

CEZ Shperndarje, the local subsidiary of the Czech electricity company, has been locked in a row over debts with the Albania’s state-owned electricity producer, KESH, and public enterprises over unpaid debt.  

On November 16, police arrested 20 employees of CEZ Shperndarje who cut off power to local water utility companies; a move the government claims was illegal. All CEZ employees have been released since then.

CEZ claims that public institutions and companies owe more than €165 in unpaid electricity bills, which has brought the company to his knees.

In return CEZ has stopped making payments to KESH for more than one year. According to KESH, CEZ has accumulated a debt to the electricity producer of more than €208 million.  

CEZ is currently looking to opt out of its investment in CEZ Shperndarje, which it privatized for €102 million. The company has complained that it has faced in Albania a substandard business environment.

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