Live streaming, online transcripts of open hearings urged in ERC reform bill

ERC reviewing Meralco’s power hike bid

After spotting the cracks in the governing structure of the current Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Senator Sherwin Gatchalian sheds light to deliberations to the general public to guarantee that consumers get fair and reasonable power rates.

Among the recommendations proposed in the Senate Bill No. 1490 or the ERC Governance Act of 2017, Gatchalian pressed that live internet streamings of the hearings on the ERC website along with a transcript of stenographic notes and minutes of the meeting be made available to the public within one week from the date of the open hearing.

This is to ensure transparency and increase public accountability of the energy regulator sector that “provide greater confidence that regulatory decisions are made on an objective, impartial and consistent basis, without conflict of interest, bias or improper influence.”

However, open meetings are strictly limited to confidential and competitively sensitive information revealed by the Commission, which SB No. 1490 is open to holding of executive sessions “upon a majority vote” and only after the reasons for such confidentiality is identified in an open meeting.

These executive sessions will likewise be allowed to “discuss the disciplining or dismissal of complaints or charges brought against a public officer, employee or staff of ERC.”

“These reforms will give life to the constitutional rights of our citizens to have access to public information which directly affects the power costs they see in their monthly electricity bills. It’s like a mini-FOI bill which specifically targets the energy regulation sector,” Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, said.

The ERC reform also seeks to overhaul the governance structure of the ERC by equally distributing its regulatory powers and management functions among its officers.

To accomplish this, the chairperson and four commissioners will act as the ERC’s decision-making authority, and act as arbitrators for petitions, issues or matters related to the regulation of the distribution and transmission sector, such as but not limited to applications for power rate adjustments.

The Commission will also appoint an executive director, who will serve as the “manager” of the regulating body and lead the management of the daily operations of the ERC, assume full responsibility for the overall supervision and control of all divisions, units and services of the ERC, and initiate investigations and recommend administrative sanctions against erring employees, among others.

“Recent controversies surrounding the ERC have shown the need to overhaul its organizational structure to provide greater checks and balances in the exercise of the body’s significant regulatory powers. I am confident that these reforms will help restore public confidence in the integrity of the institution,” the lawmaker said.

The authoring of the ERC Governance Act of 2017 followed the shake-up within the ranks at the Commission, encouraging the removal of executive functions from the chairperson and transfer it to all the commissioners.

Top priorities of the reform include comprehensive administrative offenses and penalties for refusal to comply with transparency and accountability clauses that indicate confidence with the public, especially the consumer market.

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