Friday, 27 January 2012

Rewards and punishments

Last week I gave our dear friends at Botswana Power Corporation an idea that I thought might help them to confront some of the problems they face. No, I’m not talking about dealing with the perception amongst the public that they are a disaster as a provider of power. No, I’m not talking about improving the experience I’m sure most of us have had of calling their so-called “Faults” number only to hear it ring until you lose the will to live. No, I’m not talking about confronting the feeling most of us have that they should get off their parastatal backsides and DO something about our power crisis.

On the contrary, I’m talking about the future, about preventing this sort of problem from happening again. Regardless of the construction of new power stations, making new and better deals with neighboring countries and buying power production from the private sector I suspect we are always going to have power problems in Botswana. That’s because we’re wasteful. Given the opportunity to have all our lights on 24/7, to run our pool pump when it’s already crystal clear and to have every air-con in the building running all the time, that’s what we do. We are just a wasteful nation.

Knowing I run the risk of causing offence by saying this, it’s not our only failing. We can’t take our drink and we can’t drive properly either. Much as I find the alcohol levy irritating it does seem from the evidence elsewhere that pricing is the only effective way to curb drinking. I suspect the same goes for driving as well. If we want to improve the quality of driving and to reduce the level of death and destruction on our roads we need to make bad driving an expensive business. Some months ago an acquaintance of mine complained that he had been stopped by the police for driving while speaking on his cellphone. He was appalled at the fine he was made to pay. Another complained about being fined P1,000 for driving through a red robot. I don’t think either was impressed by my lack of sympathy. Forgive me for misquoting the old saying: If you can’t pay the fine, then don’t do the crime. The best way to avoid traffic fines is not to speed, not to run red lights and not to drive like a moron. Yes, I DO mean combi and taxi drivers, I also mean you. And me.

The sooner we’re genuinely afraid of breaking the rules the better. The sooner we’re afraid, the sooner we might actually obey the rules and save some lives.

I think the same goes for power consumption. The sooner it hurts us if we waste electricity the sooner we might actually stop and think about how much we’re using. The sooner they reward us for reducing our power consumption, the sooner we might actually do that.

The irony is that unlike recycling your refuse, cutting back on your alcohol abuse or controlling the speed at which you drive, saving power has no downside. Nobody is telling you not to watch TV, have a swim or cook dinner, they’re just suggesting that you’re a little bit more sensible about switching devices off.

My idea last week was for BPC to be able to punish and reward us depending on whether we use less or more power. I don’t just mean that our bills should go up and down in proportion to our consumption, I mean something extra. If your consumption goes down by 10% compared to the same period last year then obviously your bill goes down in proportion but I suggest they cut another 10% off as well as a reward. If your consumption goes up the same thing happens but in reverse. Your bill would go up in proportion to your increased use but they would then add a punishment factor on top.

It sounds cruel to the bigger and more profligate users but do we really care? They should have been more prudent. They should have thought about this before they plugged in all that equipment. They should have tried harder to save money.

But think also of the possible benefits. Just imagine what would happen if you halved your electricity consumption. Your bill would be zero. The 50% you actually used would be entirely free.

OK, perhaps you think this is all too radical? Giving consumers a financial incentive to reduce their costs would never work. Well, consider this. It’s working right now in the insurance industry. Many insurance companies offer a “no claims discount” to their customers. They offer their prudent customers a discount if they make no claims. The less often you make claims the less you pay. Those that have accidents and make claims aren’t given the discount.

So why can’t the rest of the business world work the same way? Why can’t banks offer you loans at cheaper rates if you paid off the last loan without a single problem? I don’t have any problem with making the bad payers, the wasteful and the reckless pay more than those who do their best to be good customers and neighbors.

If the business world can even consider these things why can’t the parastatals like BPC? Or is it that they still see themselves as somehow different from real businesses? Is it that they don’t think they should play by the same rules as the rest of us. Is it that they really don’t give a damn about their customers? Why don’t they prove me wrong?

This week’s stars
  • Kwape from South African Express Airways for being so helpful, friendly and giving good advice!

No comments: