Utility regulators have a major role to play in the face of transformation of African economies into knowledge-driven economies, as well as adoption of new technologies, experts have said.
They said this yesterday during the official opening of the 14th annual general conference of the African Forum for Utility Regulators (AFUR), that is underway in Kigali.
“Looking at the global economic trends, technology trends and where our countries and the continent are, there is a need to devise regulatory actions that match the realities on the ground,” Patrick Nyirishema, the director-general of Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), said.
“If there is newer technology coming, we should promote this through regulation. This is a role that we (regulators) have to play.”
Andrew Sematamba, an expert at IFS, a Swedish multinational enterprise software company, said that with the climate change happening and growth of technology, regulators must set new standards that guide the developments.
“There is climate change in our midst that requires new standards and there is growth of technology in utilities. This presents a challenge to regulatory bodies to design regulations and guidelines that act as guidance, as well as protect consumers,” he said.
Hosted by RURA, the conference attracted nearly 200 key players in the regulatory sector to deliberate on issues related to the regulation of energy, telecommunications, transportation, and water and sanitation industries.
According to Nyirishema, throughout the week, they will discuss different kinds of regulatory actions that are required to achieve accelerated sustainable utility services in Africa.
“As regulators, we tend to be very traditional in our thinking and planning. But we need to shift from traditional ways of regulating and move to innovation-driven. If we are talking about smart energy, smart transport and others, we should also shift focus to smart regulation,” he said.
To improve the utilities services provision, Nyirishema urged regulatory bodies from across different African countries to be more proactive, data-driven as well as tap into technology.
“In this age, we no longer have to rely on guess work where people sit down and think that things will just work. We need to put in place systems that enable us to collect data, analyse it and take decisions based on them. We should also have actions that promote utility infrastructure and services that are technically and technologically efficient,” he said.
AC Group’s Ivan Magwene said existing regulations are enabling new businesses to thrive, and that the environment should be conducive in other countries across Africa to enable them expand to other areas.
“RURA as a regulator has helped set a clear environment for businesses like ours to operate. We not only look at them as a regulatory body, but as an advisory member for our technology business to thrive. We look forward to see other countries putting up right regulations that enable businesses to expand,” he said.
AC Group is a technology start-up behind Tap&Go, the country’s first cashless bus payment system.
Affordable utility services
Meanwhile, James Musoni, the infrastructure minister, challenged participants to create regulatory solutions that aim at ensuring that utility services are available, affordable, as well as sustainable.
He said that regulators have a bigger role to play in shaping various sectors and ensuring that they are economically efficient and sustainable.
“Looking at the ongoing reforms in the utility sector in Africa, particularly use of Public-Private Partnerships for infrastructure development, regulators have a crucial role to play in balancing the interest of the government, service providers and customers,” Musoni said.