Buddhist activists engage with energy policy

Posted on August 31, 2014  /  0 Comments

Is this a regional trend? I came across this report from Thailand, soon after reviewing a book of energy policy and politics by Minister Ranawaka from the JHU, the Sri Lankan political party which has monks in leadership positions and which got into Parliament by fielding an all-monk slate of candidates in 2004.

The monk’s role in energy reform has surprised several people. Phra Buddha, who made a name for himself while leading a protest against the Yingluck Shinawatra government early this year, said he was now planning to champion for reform in this important sector.

The monk had joined the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who has now also taken up saffron robes.

This time though, the people who stood together to oust Yingluck’s government seem to differ in terms of energy reform. The Democrat Party-backed technocrats want energy to be reformed according to market forces, while some activists are championing for the nationalisation of energy enterprises.

Buddha Issara brought both these groups together on Wednesday with the objective of achieving a common solution.

He said one of the key reasons behind him accepting the moderator’s role is that he wanted to maintain the “right balance” by listening to all sides. He told The Nation that he was “stressed, nervous and excited” as he sat in the moderator’s chair that day.

He also admitted that the energy reform advocate group did not fully trust him, which is why they were hesitant in joining the forum and did not spend much time preparing their questions. Hence, he said, their questions to the PTT interest group and technocrats were not very sharp and objective.

There seem to be some commonalities. Minister Ranawaka does not see electrons as electrons. There are different kinds, depending on mode of generation, and the cheaper electrons should be allocated to low-income, low-user households. Phra Buddha thinks on the same lines:

However, he added that a few key questions that had been left unanswered would be added to the next forum’s agenda, such as the proposal of separating household and industrial energy. The monk argues that domestic energy sources belong to the people, and should therefore be reserved for household consumption at a cheaper price, while industries should rely on imported energy.

Phra Buddha appears to be more progressive though. He convenes meetings where different perspectives can be aired. Our Buddhist layman spouts vituperation at all who do not toe his line. The review, which addresses this problem among others, will be up in English tomorrow.

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