Sri Lanka to standardize power sockets as ‘square pin’ from next year

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power regulator is planning to standardise electrical plugs and sockets in Sri Lanka as the 13 Ampere ‘square pin’ type and ban the import and manufacture of alternative units from 2016.

At the moment a confusing array of plugs and sockets are in use in Sri Lanka requiring different adapters, while the quality of some of the accessories are also in doubt, making them unsafe.

The power regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka has published a consultation paper on standardizing plugs and sockets, and had already sought and received public views on the proposed plan.

Many countries have a single or dual standard. The square pin or ‘Type G’ which are safer and provides a better fit than round pin plugs. Experts caution that using multi-plugs are also not safe.

Time Line

The PUC proposes to ban the import to Sri Lanka or manufacture of electrical appliances with plugs other than the ‘type G’ or ‘square pin’ from May 01, 2016.

The sale of such appliances will be banned from May 01, 2017, with any remaining stocks to be sold after being replaced with a square pin plug.

Double insulated electrical appliance that are now sold with a ‘two pin’ plug will have to be sold in the future with a ‘square pin’ plug containing a dummy pin for the earth wire.

The regulator proposes to ban the import or manufacture of sockets other than ‘type G’ sockets from May 01, 2016. The sale of such sockets will be banned, a year later from May 01, 2017.

As a transitional arrangement the regulator also proposes manufacturers to produce a specially marked ‘square pin’ plug to replace existing sockets wired for 5 Amperes, when old sockets need to be replaced.

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Any wall sockets already fixed will be allowed to remain until the end of their useful lives.

But all new wiring of new house, re-wiring of old houses or extensions after 01 May 2016 should only have square pin sockets, with a thicker (more expensive) load wire.

State backed high prices

In Sri Lanka all houses have many so-called 5 Ampere plugs (round pin) wired with cheaper 1.044 cables with only a few 13 or 15A sockets and circuits.

Power cables prices in Sri Lanka are artificially kept up as manufacturers have lobbied politicians to push up import taxes to eliminate competition and exploit customers with high process to earn extra high profits or rents.

In Sri Lanka, bad quality imports of all types of building materials is also promoted by the State which is charging high import taxes to artificially boost the market share and profits nationalist politically-savvy domestic producers.

High taxes to block imports also force the import of low quality materials – including factory rejects – putting better quality products out of reach of the poorest consumers.

Though copper and polymer prices have collapsed over the last few years, along with steel, precious metals and oil, import taxes have helped keep the price of electrical wiring costs high.

While standardizing building wiring codes, or setting minimum safety standards for accessories or the future import of standardized electrical appliances can help promote safety and ease of use, freedom advocates say regulators who wield coercive power should think carefully about ‘banning’ the import of multi-plugs, convertor adaptors or any other item.

Unlike Sri Lanka’s Treasury which hatches taxes in secret and unleashes them through mid-night gazettes through a ‘minister’s prerogative’ (see Royal Prerogative) like a latter day feudal state, the PUCSL goes to great lengths to seek public consultations like a parliament in a free country.

Economic analysts say once wiring the import of electrical goods with ‘square pin’ plugs is made mandatory, there is likely to be a surge in demand for ‘square to round pin’ adapters in the country.

Unintended Consequences

If the import and sale of ’round to square pin’ adaptors is banned, a large ‘black market’ may develop and an entire population could be put in difficulties and a ‘victimless crime’ may enter the statute books if sellers are raided and punished by the consumer affairs authority.

The poor who are unable to get friends from abroad to bring such convertor plugs or buy convertor adaptors on e-bay may be the hardest hit.

There will also be a surge in demand for the specially marked 05 amp square pin sockets that will replace existing 5A sockets which break or wear off, giving a captive market to domestic manufacturers.

Since manufacturers in the power sector have a record of oppressing consumers with high prices and protectionism, the regulator should take special care to ensure that consumers who will now be cornered are not exploited again, freedom advocates say.

Despite the best intentions to have special instruction on the square pin 5-amp socket, it could also turn out to be a major safety problem. Different pin sizes are used in different plugs to make it physically impossible for careless users to mistake sockets.

Freedom advocates say ideally the regulator should only impose the building code, making the ‘square pin’ plugs mandatory in wiring regulation.

The State should then expand freedoms of the people to follow the regulation, by bringing the import taxes on 13 amp cables to the level of a free country to enable people to follow the regulation at the least cost.

Over time the entire market will then move to the import and sale of ‘square pin’ type products and the demand for adaptors would gradually diminish without any further state interventions with un-intended consequences such as a ‘ban’ which could infringe on the personal economic freedoms of the people and put them in difficulties.

Grandfathered

Allowing existing wiring to remain for their useful lives, a legislating tactic known as ‘grandfathering’ is a good practice for regulators who want to promote just rule of law and freedom to follow.

However banning the import of convertor adaptors could undermine the freedom, just rule and good intentions of the ‘grandfathering move’ as people will not be able to make use of the old sockets if convertor adaptors are banned.

If convertor adaptors are banned, people will be coerced to buy the specially marked sockets for reasons that have nothing to do with safety.

Sri Lanka has already been hard hit by state interventions, restrictions of freedoms and is emerging from a civil war was also partly triggered created due to excessive nationalism and intervention in language and other freedoms of the people.

The regulator may also have to use the ‘import and export control act’ enacted in 1969 before the economy was closed, to impose the new rules. There already been calls for the draconian act to be repealed to expand people’s freedom and the country’s progress.

Other than to impose essential safety standards, the import and export control act should be sparingly used until it is reformed or repealed, freedom advocates say.

Before setting quality standards regulators should also examine whether there are any import duties that force people to import and consume lower quality goods. (Colombo/Nov16/2015).

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