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Need to criminalise estimated billing

With the forthcoming public hearing of a bill to criminalise estimated billing by Electricity Distribution Companies in Nigeria, one can say things are looking up for millions of electricity consumers denied pre-paid meters and therefore, serially raped by these companies, otherwise known as DisCos.

It is not like by this development their impunity against consumers has come to an end. No, there’s still a long way to go. But then, it is a good start in the journey of getting those we elected to serve us do exactly that and not serve the monopolies they establish to rip us off.

electricity

Nigerians have, for long, been exploited on all fronts. This is the more reason this bill, debated and passed for second reading on April 17, 2018, must be given all the necessary attention it deserves to yield expected result.

The Bill, according to its sponsor and majority leader at the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, comes up for public hearing, Tuesday, June 5, 2018 and anyone/group interested in making a presentation is advised to send memoranda to Gbajabiamila’s office for onward transmission to the House Committee on Power.

Necessitated by complaints from constituents across the country, who felt regulations by the executive had failed to arrest the highhandedness of electricity distribution companies, the bill, when passed into law, will resolve the unfavorable technical manipulation of the reading pattern of existing pre-paid meters that are not commensurate with calculation of purchased electricity credit.

Most importantly, it will criminalize the use of ‘estimated billing’ in the calculation of electricity consumed and to be paid for by consumers. It will also seek to protect the right of every electricity consumer to be metered within 30 days of applying for the device.

It also proposes different categories of penalties for failure to comply, or for illegally disconnecting a consumer on the grounds of estimated billing.

As have always been the case, and given the monopoly of the DisCos, Nigerians have no choice but to pay whatever they are billed, often times estimated.

Even when you dare to stay off by switching to a generating set, they will still send you some crazy bill at the end of the month for what you never consumed.

Should you protest or call for investigation into this fraud, the electricity company’s next line of blackmail will be a demand for 70 per cent down payment before any such protest can be investigated.

When you do that, you have already paid off almost everything you are contesting. Either way, you remain the loser and ironically, this mostly happens to law abiding consumers willing to pay their bills but asking for a system that ensures they are not exploited.

Interestingly, a law exists backing consumers’ demand as the legal authority setting up the distribution companies specifically proscribes this kind of sharp practice when it states that: “A distribution company shall not disconnect a customer’s supply of electricity for non-payment where, the customer has made a complaint concerning the unpaid bill in accordance with the commission’s customer complaints procedure, and the complaint remains unresolved.”

Under the very corrupt system the electricity companies prefer to operate, however, it pays them to estimate billings. Or how do we explain that someone paying between N4, 500 and N5, 000, monthly, mid 2016, is suddenly billed between N22, 000 and N26, 000 from January of 2018 till date with hardly any improvement in consumption? And you are simply expected to pay or be disconnected!

Unfortunately, those who seek to have this broad daylight robbery corrected are usually frustrated by officials, while those who seem to play along do not just bother with bills but are rather encouraged to settle the ladder-carrying officials, who get them right back connected.

Those involved are usually tenants, who by the time they move out of the rented house, will be living behind accumulated bills that will lock the next tenant and the landlord/lady in another round of controversy.

The new bill ought to find space for this kind of situation, proposing that where such a case is proven, the electricity company should be made to bear the cost because it could not have been supplying power to someone who was not paying his/her bill and expecting someone else to pay.

And it is very unfortunate, really, that despite the couple of times the monopoly electricity company changed names, they have never dropped the high-wired corruption toga they have always been known for.

But one thing is certain, though. Times are changing, to the point that some neighbourhoods are no longer finding it funny with the ladder-carrying boys on illegal disconnection mission, more so when there is hardly improvement in electricity supply.

That is why the bold initiative to criminalise estimated billing, a deliberate fraudulent practice employed by unconscionable power distribution companies to fleece customers, is a very much welcome intervention.

 


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