Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) yesterday gave his approval to the appointment of Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Hwang Jung-chiou (黃重球) as the new chairman of Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電), after Taipower chairman Edward Chen (陳貴明) tendered his resignation on Saturday.
Sean Chen’s statement came after the Ministry of Economic Affairs said in a text message on Saturday night that it had approved Edward Chen’s resignation and recommended that Hwang fill the vacancy to facilitate the task of reforming the loss-making state-run company.
“I accept Edward Chen’s resignation and agree to the recommendation of Hwang as his successor,” Premier Chen told Central News Agency after attending a public function in Taipei.
The nation’s largest electricity supplier and monopoly grid operator has recently drawn sharp criticism for seeking steep rises in the electricity rates to ease its financial woes.
The company must press ahead with reform despite the leadership reshuffle, the premier said.
Taipower has accumulated NT$132.2 billion (US$4.52 billion) in net losses as of February and would incur additional losses of NT$10 billion a month if electricity prices remain unchanged, Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) said last month.
To avoid that, Taipower proposed raising electricity prices by an average of 16.9 percent for households, 30 percent for commercial establishments and 35 percent for industrial users, starting May 15.
The looming rate increases, on the heels of a 10 percent rice in petroleum-based products last month, deepened public unease over growing inflationary pressures and forced President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to slow the rate adjustments.
The rate increases will now be introduced in three phases — an increase of 40 percent of the originally planned increase on June 10 and another 40 percent increase on Dec. 10 — with the timing of the remaining 20 percent increase depending on progress in Taipower’s reform.
The ministry is due to wrap up a three-month review of the company’s pricing, procurement and personnel compensation policies at the end of next month.
With a doctoral degree in information engineering from National Chiao-Tung University, Hwang, 59, worked as a senior executive at the National Enterprise Commission and the Department of Industrial Technology, as well as the Bureau of Industrial Development under the economics ministry before assuming his current post in March 2009.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) voiced skepticism over Hwang’s capability to shake up Taipower, given his background of long service as a bureaucrat.
“Hwang, who has worked for the government for a long time, lacks the vision and resolution to overhaul Taipoiwer,” Ting said by telephone.
Ting said it is reasonable for Edward Chen to step down and take the political responsibility for the public uproar against Taipower.
KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) voiced similar views, saying Edward Chen, who has chaired Taipower since April 2006, proved unable to improve the company’s efficiency in any way.
“It is high time the company installs a new leader so it might have a better chance at reform,” Lin said.