Fresh trouble in power sector over ‘crazy’ bills

The excitement expressed by many Nigerians about the recent improvement in power supply after months of worsening outage may have been cut short by the persistent issue of over-estimated bills, popularly known as ‘crazy’ bills.

While the improvement in power supply is expected to result in an increase in bills, a number of customers without prepaid meters are complaining that the amount being charged by the electricity distribution companies is too high.

Late last month, the Consumer Protection Council said it had been inundated with complaints from consumers over crazy billing and non-provision of meters by the Discos.

The CPC, in a letter dated August 26, 2015 and signed by its Director-General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, summoned the Discos to a meeting on September 7 for the hearing on the issues.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission had recently penalised Abuja Electricity Distribution Company for overbilling its customers and ordered it to refund the overbilled amount and apologise to the customers for the unjustifiable estimation.

Mr. Lanre Baderinwa, a customer of the Ikeja Electric, who lives in Agege, told our correspondent that some residents of his community were forced to mobilise themselves three weeks ago to protest what they saw as “outrageous bills” from the power firm.

“The electricity bills skyrocketed to the level that many people said they could not pay,” he said.

He said in July, an eight-room bungalow where he lives was charged N22,518, compared to N4,809 and N4,958 in April and May, respectively.

Baderinwa said, “To have a prepaid meter would be the best thing because it is what you use that you will pay for. There are some houses that use prepaid meters, they buy N5,000 worth of electricity and use it for more than two months.”

A customer of Eko Electricity Distribution Company in the Mushin Business Unit, Mr. J. Babatunde, told our correspondent that the amount estimated by the company as his bill for last month was near double of what he paid in July.

He wondered what brought about such an increase in the bill when there was no significant difference in the electricity supplied in July and August.

A copy of his bill, which was made available to our correspondent, showed a total electricity charge of N12,111.44 for August, up from N7,049.63 in July.

“People are receiving all sorts of crazy bills and they have been complaining a lot,” the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Muda Yusuf, said in a telephone interview.

He said, “There seems to be some forces against the provision of prepaid meters because quite frankly, if people have prepaid meters, the kind of crazy bills that many people are getting will not come up.

“And the opportunity for some of the Discos to take advantage of the absence of prepaid meters will not be there. So, it is a major thing and many consumers are not happy about it. They feel exploited.”

According to the LCCI DG, to improve the relationship between the consumers and the electricity providers, an urgent action should be taken on the issue of prepaid meters.

Yusuf said, “The crazy billing has been there even when the power situation was very bad. One thing that needs to be done is to compel the Discos to urgently provide prepaid meters.

“I must also say that we have some consumers that are also stealing electricity, which is also an issue that we must acknowledge.”

Based on the proposals submitted by the private investors who took over the Discos on November 1, 2013, about 6.52 million new meters would be installed over a period of five years.

But almost two years after the privatisation, the metering gap in the country remains huge as only few of the 11 Discos in the country have supplied some meters to their customers in the period.

When contacted, the Chairman, NERC, Dr. Sam Amadi, said, “Our job is to make sure that once we get a complaint, we investigate and act accordingly. You are aware of the Abuja Disco case.

“We have issued queries to other Discos and required them to respond. They have sent their response. When we finish and we find them guilty, we will sanction them. If they have over-billed the customers, they will have to refund them.”

The NERC chairman, however, said it would be nice to also bear in mind that improvement in power supply meant that the bill would be high.

“Everybody who feels that their bills are too high should complain to the Disco, and if they are not happy with the Disco, they can write to us.”

Commenting on the provision of meters to customers, Amadi said, “All the companies have their metering plan, which is what they committed with the BPE in their documents. And the new government has made it clear that we can’t change those commitments because they are contractual.”

According to him, the Kaduna Disco, for example, has declared that it is going to provide 100,000 meters every year to its customers.

Amadi said, “Our job is to make sure that they meter according to those commitments. So, if they say they will do 200,000 meters a year, we will look at what they have done every month or every quarter.

“What that means is that some of them will take three years going forward or two years for those of them that are aggressive to fully meter customers without meters. So, there will still be residue of unmetered customers. But what the NERC is doing is that we are streamlining the estimated billing methodology to make sure we have closer enforcement of that methodology.”

The Senior Public Relations Officer, CPC, Lagos, Mr. Nicholas Utsalo, said the council had set the ball rolling in addressing consumers’ complaints coming from the power sector, adding that all the Discos were represented at the September 7 meeting.

“Basically, a panel will be set up to start meeting the Discos individually in the next two to three weeks. It is from there that we will know the intricacies and the challenges facing the Discos and how to relate them with consumer complaints.”

He said after the meeting with the Discos, the DG would at the appropriate time disclose the findings of the committee.

Copyright PUNCH.

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