By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) on Wednesday condemned arbitrary billing by the electricity distribution companies (DISCOs), while urging them to embark on aggressive metering system to curb estimated billings.
Mr Babatunde Irukere, the Director General of CPC gave the advised at the customers’ engagement town hall meeting organised by Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) in collaboration with CPC in Lagos.
Irukere said that the town hall meeting necessary to engage with electricity consumers directly and fashion out ways to listen and address their complaints with regards to electricity in a civilised and matured manner.
He said that group disconnection of consumer’s electricity without consideration for those paying their constituted an abuse of consumer rights.
He said that engaging with consumers remains the best option in resolving consumer’s challenges and complaints, adding that power continues to be greatest challenge in our country experiencing today.
According to him, power is a national challenge. All the values chain in the sector needs to come together to address the power sector challenges, which remains the best option.
Irukera, while expressing understanding about challenges in the industry, said “there is no excuse for how consumers are treated” noted that, “the key complaints that we receive are arbitrary, unsupported and unreasonable billing.
“People not being treated with dignity, the complaint resolution process is either lacking or unclear and there’s really no respect for people”.
The DG said consumers’ complaints have not been primarily about supply, “but about billing for non-existent supply”, adding that “as a matter of fact, a vast majority of supply complaints are attributed to the fact that you (DISCOs) are asking them to pay for something that was not supplied and the other significant reason is group disconnection”.
He however, lauded the management of EKEDC on their commitment towards ensuring complaints associated with estimated billing and metering are addressed, adding that the Disco has demonstrated commitment, fairness and responsibility towards effective customers service delivery engagement with consumers
According to him, “DISCOs have gotten to a point where no one takes their bills seriously anymore because they are considered outrageous.
“ I think the pressure on metering will not be so bad if the estimated billing was more transparent and reasonable” he noted.
Irukere charged the Discos to engage in aggrieve metering of consumers to address issues of estimated billing.
“The group disconnection usually adopted by distribution companies because of the debts owed by some members of the affected groups, unfortunately, disregards and undermines the rights of other consumers in the groups who did not owe.
“You see people who are complaining about supply because they, as individuals, have been responsible, but the DISCOs have painted them with a broad stroke and disconnected even the responsible people.
“As a lawyer, our approach to criminal work, even legal work, has always been that let the guilty man go free instead of punishing the innocent man.
“For me, there’s something fundamentally, absolutely irreparable and inexcusably wrong with penalising people because of the conduct of others. It is just not excusable.
“ The government should never do that to its people. But if the government does it as a state actor, as inexcusable as it is, it might even be permissible,’’ he added.
Irukere said that the fundamental principle of fairness required that people should pay for what they used, adding that estimated billing is not a Nigerian phenomenon but Nigerians condemns arbitrary billing,
“There should be cost reflective billing on consumption, consumers has the right to insist to pay for what they used.
“Estimated billing should be fair and not arbitrary, the group disconnection is unfair, community should not be held responsively for equipments
“Transformer should not be community effort, however, it is expected that DISCO are transparent, sensitivity and responsiveness as a o service provider
“The three will not increase mega watts but reduced consumer’s frustrations. We ensure that consumers are rightfully billed,’’ he added.
Mr Adeoye Fadeyibi, the Chief Executive Officer, EKEDC said that that company has improved tremendously on its customers service delivery system in ensuring effective and prompt service delivery to its customers within its operations.
Fadeyibi said that EKEDC has the responsibility to satisfy its customers, adding that the company is trying all it could to ensure maximum satisfaction of electricity supply to its customers .
He said that the company has also stepped up on prompt response to address faults and outage within its network, while condemning attitude of some consumers towards vandalising its equipments and bypassing meter to shortchange the company.
According to him, In spite of our effort in ensuring effective metering within our network to ease customer’s complaints, we noticed that over 70,000 customers had not vended (recharged the pre-paid meter) in the last one year.
“Some customers are in the habit of bypassing meter and engaging in energy theft, this has also affected the company negatively. Most of our transformers are being vandalized in some areas which cost the company huge amount to replace.
“This are part of the challenges affecting the company, we need to tell ourselves the truth. Consumers should also be our watchdog in their various locations by reporting those engaging in energy theft and equipment vandalisation
“`Because the money that was meant to develop other infrastructures has been diverted to repair vandalized equipment,’’ he said.
The managing director said that the Metering Assessment Programme (MAP) initiative will go a long way in addressing metering gap within the network, adding that the company had metered over 150,000 customers.
He said that efforts are being made to address the metering gap with more meters for consumers and the adoption of an interim plan of metering transformers for a more accurate estimation.