Aleppo countryside: Local councils hold power companies responsible; protests return to street
Enab Baladi – Aleppo countryside
Local demonstrations have returned to the towns and villages of the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo, protesting the high prices of electricity supply and its frequent interruptions.
A wave of anger among the people was met with the local councils’ rejection of the electricity companies’ policy, and the councils threatened to terminate the contracts concluded between them and hold the companies responsible for the high prices and power outages.
Electricity prices and cuts move the street
Electricity companies operating in the countryside of Aleppo intend to raise their prices and follow a policy of “rationalization,” which was rejected by the people, describing the companies as “corrupt,” a scene that has been repeated over the past years.
On 9 January, several towns in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo witnessed protests against the increase in the price of electricity, as demonstrated by demonstrations and campaigns on social media.
Protesters in the city of al-Bab organized a demonstration in front of the building of the AK energy electricity company, blocked the road in front of it, and expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision to raise the price, describing it as “corrupt.”
The sit-in, which was expected to take place in the city of Azaz, was postponed amid security alerts from the civil police and law enforcement forces.
Students at the Aleppo University in the Liberated Areas in Azaz complained to Enab Baladi about the high prices of electricity and its interruption at night, which negatively affects their studies.
The students mentioned that the frequent outage affects the charging of their mobile devices and prevents them from following the online lectures.
Azaz-based grocer Ghannam Mahmoud al-Nahar said the frequent power outages lead to damage to “sensitive” foodstuffs, such as milk and cheese, which he disposes of without any compensation for the loss he suffers with each outage.
Al-Nahar, a displaced person from Deir Ezzor, told Enab Baladi that he does not have any alternative solutions to secure electricity during periods of power cuts, as solar panels are expensive, and the living and economic conditions are deteriorating.
He held the local authorities responsible, calling for controlling the work of the electricity companies.
No clear mechanism
The AK energy company justified raising its prices with the increase in electricity transmission fees by the Turkish Ministry of Energy at the beginning of this year.
The home subscription tariff increased from 2.85 to 3.85 Turkish liras as of 9 January, according to a clause in the contract signed between the local council and AK energy.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Azaz reported that the price hike was accompanied by frequent power outages, at a varying pace during the current month, contrary to what people are used to when electricity is fully available, pointing out that the company justified the reduction of operating hours to the residents due to “financial problems they face.”
According to the Syrian-Turkish Electric Power Company (STE) operating in the area, electric current prices in Afrin, north of Aleppo, for the household segment are 285 TL per 100 kilowatts, for the commercial segment, 525 TL per 100 kilowatts, and for the industrial segment 625 TL per 100 kilowatts.
The STE issued a decision preventing homeowners from mobilizing more than 100 kilowatts per month, and in case of a desire to add, the additional 100 kilowatts must be paid according to the commercial segment.
The contract signed between the company and the beneficiary stipulates that the latter pledge not to steal or give a line to a neighbor because that would expose him to a violation, cut off the power supply, and pay a fine.
Residents of Afrin city expressed their dissatisfaction with the policy of the electricity company, describing its decisions as “military” ones as in the event that any person steals the electric current, the company cuts off the current to all the homes of the neighborhood in which the person resides until he pays the financial fine.
Fares al-Hassan, an IDP from Homs, explained that he was subjected to a violation and cut off the electricity in his building because the entrance to his house was closed at two o’clock at night, which hindered the arrival of the electricity patrol to check the meter, only to be surprised in the morning when the power was cut off in his house.
Al-Hassan told Enab Baladi that when he visited the company, it became clear that the reason for the power cut was the closing of the entrance to the building at night and accusing him of theft, in addition to fining him 300 Turkish liras and asking him to move the electricity meter outside the entrance to the building.
Muhammad Kharboutli, an IDP from Damascus suburbs, told Enab Baladi that he told the company about a malfunction in the electricity meter, and he paid ten Turkish liras to request a maintenance check.
During the maintenance, the worker dismantled the meter and kept it in the company, which did not replace it until after paying an amount of 300 Turkish liras, accusing him of tampering. The company also deducted more than 15 kilowatts from the old meter while transferring the remainder to the new one, Kharboutli said.
Mohammad Enad, a butcher, said that he sometimes resorts to using a generator in order to reduce expenses and save money, especially during his hours of work pressure.
Local councils refuse, power companies clarify
The local council in the city of Azaz filed a lawsuit to terminate the contract with AK energy after its decision to reduce operating hours.
The council rejected the company’s letter to implement “rationalization,” indicating that the company can secure electricity through the city’s generators.
The council stated that cutting off the power leads to great harm to the work of citizens and the work of public institutions, warning the company of great popular congestion.
The lawsuit filed by the Azaz local council against the power company in the Turkish and Syrian courts is the seventh of its kind due to procedures for reducing operating hours and pricing that do not comply with the terms of the concluded contract.
For its part, the local council in the city of Jarablus announced in a statement its rejection of the electricity tariff issued by the electricity company and the continuous interruption of the electricity supply under the pretext of rationing by the AK energy company.
The council held the company fully responsible for violating the contract concluded between them and unilaterally taking the decision to raise prices and “rationalize” electricity.
Also, the council stated that in the event of failure to respond by canceling the decision to raise the price, the council has the right to take the necessary legal measures, pointing out that the company has been duly addressed in a letter informing it of the rejection of the “unilateral” measure on its part.
Muhammad Eid al-Madani, Public relations director at the AK energy company, told Enab Baladi that the contract is terminated between the company and the council, if any of the two sides violates one of its provisions, as the contract includes a clause that allows the electricity company to raise the price every three months if it rises from the source.
Al-Madani said that the price hike was 24% from the Turkish supplier, along with transportation fees.
He added that the price increase included the household segment, and the price of one kilowatt of electricity increased from 2.85 to 3.85 Turkish liras, while the industrial and commercial prices remained the same, which is 5.25 liras per kilowatt.
In a statement published on 17 January, AK energy said that the rate of illegal electricity extraction had increased significantly by tampering with the meters and electrical networks by unknown persons claiming to be employees of the company and extorting sums of money from subscribers.
AK energy asked the participants to cooperate with the company and not deal with people in order to reduce and end the illegal actions, with promises to hold accountable the party that causes harm to citizens and the company.
The companies operating in the countryside of Aleppo used to hold the Turkish source responsible for raising the price and cutting off electricity for hours under the pretext of maintenance and rationing. This was reflected in street protests, as people used to have electricity throughout the day.
Residents also suffer from high electricity prices, compared to the deteriorating economic situation in northwestern Syria, as families need the equivalent of ten days’ wages to pay monthly electricity costs.
In the past months, cities and towns in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo have witnessed protests against raising the price of electricity in their areas.
At that time, the demonstrations revealed a defect and lack of knowledge and coordination in the contracts of local councils with electricity companies and the councils’ inability to control the work of electricity companies.
The confusion appeared in different reactions, including requests to file lawsuits or cancel contracts, and the matter reached the announcement of resignations in some cases.
Enab Baladi’s correspondents, in Azaz, Dayan Junpaz, and in Afrin, Amir Kharboutli, contributed to this report.
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