Kyiv, October 21, 2016. Today, Ukrainian society has two requests that could justify the appearance of energy ombudsman. These are fair prices and quality services. This was stated by Taras Kachka, Deputy Executive Director, International Renaissance Foundation, at a discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “The main thing is that it should be independent in its actions and ensure impartiality to all stakeholders,” stressed Mr. Kachka. As for quality services, the ombudsman could be an alternative model for dispute resolution. “We cannot rely on the courts. Small consumers’ disputes against big monopolists are not good to the consumer, at least because of high legal fees,” he said. As for the rates, according to Taras Kachka, the society needs a more objective, not politicized level of discussions and currently there is such an open discussion on the rates.
Andriy Gerus, founder of Energy Consumers Association, ex-member of the National Commission for state regulation in the energy and utilities, believes that the ongoing reform must solve those problems in the energy sector that are most important for the consumer – competition in the market and fair regulator. However, currently consumers face a number of other problems. “Consumers are not concentrated, there are a lot of them and they are not significant. When it comes to tariffs, big businesses have privileges, and small ones pay for themselves and for those receiving privileges,” he noted. According to Mr. Gerus, the ombudsman institution is the right decision, but it does not solve the problem by itself. According to him, prices for services are approaching the European ones, while the quality and compensation fall behind. “The NKREKP has made a decision on compensation for commercial quality – you will be paid 100 UAH, if you have no electricity twenty-four hours. In the UK this compensation cost is 27 times greater. The difference in their and our tariffs is three or four times,” stressed Mr. Gerus.
According to Svitlana Golikova, member of KERI Strategic Council, currently consumer and supplier relationships are becoming more complicated in legal terms. Payment documents are replaced by a full-fledged agreement. “Not everybody is able to understand what it says. The supplier may violate the terms of the agreement, but the consumer is not able to understand this,” noted Ms. Golikova. The same is also true of bills. Now a consumer can choose a pricing plan. “The ombudsman should perform the information and advisory function. To generalize the dispute resolution practice, analyze and explain to the regulator how to change the law,” she explained.
Ms. Golikova believes that during the transition period of the market formation the ombudsman can be a separated unit of the NKREPKP and function using the funds of donors.
Oleksiy Kucherenko, NGO “Association of Residential Property Owners of Ukraine”, head of the Board, ex-Minister of Housing and Communal Services of Ukraine, noted that the NKREKP with its current staff is reluctant to institute an ombudsman. Besides, the newly adopted law does not provide for this. “I am surprised when I hear proposals to turn to the NKREKP that they should head the movement in search of an ombudsman. If they had wanted to do this, they would have done this long ago. Unfortunately, the current staff of the NKREKP does not see this institution. This is our huge mistake that the ombudsman issue has not been included in the new law as a separate section,” stressed Mr. Kucherenko. However, he said that if such an office is instituted, it will become a party to the tariff process and will allow the disputes to be resolved extrajudicially.
Tetyana Boyko, civil network “OPORA” coordinator for housing, communal services and energy programs,” believes that it will be difficult for the ombudsman to fulfill his functions until the reform of markets is over. “It’s one of the reasons why consumers lose in court. We have many laws, and a lawyer can use any of them to protect the interests of those who pay him,” she stressed.