Court opts out of surcharge battle between St Philip’s and Enemalta
A request for the issue of an injunction to prevent a suspension of electricity supply to a hospital was turned down by the courts yesterday.
The matter arose when the owners of St Philip’s Hospital referred the issue of the validity of the surcharge and capping in electricity bills to the Office of Fair Competition on 16 May 2007 and subsequently paying only part of the electricity bills they were charged.
When Enemalta Corporation threatened to suspend supplies, the hospital sought the protection of the courts until a decision was made by the Office of Fair Competition.
In his decree Mr Justice Raymond Pace held that the applicant hospital had not shown even prima facie that it had rights under the law which deserved protection through the issue of a warrant of prohibitory injunction, and rejected its request. The hospital was ordered to pay all costs and fees in the case.
The decree appears to endorse the Enemalta’s stance that its claims for payment were based on rates charged in terms of the applicable laws and legal notices duly published. The implications for anybody inviting non-payment of utility bills in protest for any reason therefore become ominous.
Yesterday’s decree also brings to light the issue of recourse to the Office of Fair Competition. Invited to decide upon the merits of this matter two years ago, the Office seems not to have made its considered decision known so far.
Reacting to the court sentence, St Philip’s Hospital CEO Frank Portelli, who is also a Nationalist MEP candidate, claimed the sentence proved what he had been saying all along.
“It proves the consumer is defenceless against the monopoly Enemalta enjoys as energy provider. It proves the consumer has no choice but to connect to Enemalta’s grid, no choice but to pay for its inefficiencies, wastage and poor hedging decisions, and that there is no accountability at law for Enemalta,” Portelli said.
He added that Enemalta can and has specifically discriminated in favour of the rich and wealthy, yacht owners and cinema owners, against the rest of the population by providing capping for the rich and forcing the rest of the population to subsidise the rich.
He also said the consumer was not adequately protected by the Office of Fair competition since his claim was still pending two years since he lodged it.
Invoking a green argument, Portelli said Enemalta’s monopoly was damaging people’s health due to the emissions from obsolete power stations. “The Marsa power station is damaging the environment and the health of Marsa and harbour residents. Its obsolete technology has a dismal efficiency ration of 27 per cent. It’s a ratio that is measured financially but not in health costs. The damage to our health from the destruction of air we breathe is of course inestimable.
“If it was as efficient as the Delimara power station, we would be saving €27 million a year. But it is costing us a further €15 million every year because we are in breach of the Carbon Dioxide Trading Directive of the EU. The emissions directives require us to close the Marsa power station between 2012 to 2015.
“The only remedy for this injustice is to introduce competition, as has happened in various sectors such as communications, particularly mobile telephony,” Portelli said.
The MEP candidate said that if he was elected he would strive hard to “break this monopoly which is a remnant of old socialist ideas.”