On the bill criminalising estimated electricity billing

Electricity bill. PHOTO: Technology on Board


The passage of a bill seeking to criminalise the irritant estimated billing in the House of Representatives is a step in the right direction.The Senate should not delay passage of and concurrence on the same bill to bring an end to the nuisance the electricity distribution companies have woefully failed to tackle. It has been a failure that keeps failing.

It is unfortunate that the electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) have erroneously adopted estimated billing to be normal even as consumers have been lamenting. That piece of legislation will alleviate the burden on electricity consumers, whose plight is hardly taken into account by the authorities. This is the kind of bill that makes representation meaningful in a democracy.

According to reports, the bill passed the third reading at the House of Representatives after the report submitted by the committee set up by the House was unanimously adopted by the lawmakers following a public hearing on the matter.

For a long time, there have been a lot of complaints by electricity consumers across the country against estimated billing without remedy. Rather than abating, the rip-off continues. The result is that at present, virtually all electricity consumers, except those with installed prepaid meters, are slammed with outrageous bills for power not supplied. What a blatant corruption that is allowed to fester?

Surprisingly, the DISCOs have not been restrained from demanding payment for power not supplied. Instead, failure to pay has often resulted in harassment of consumers, illegal disconnection and blackout. This is an abhorrent practice that does not hold in standard business practice. No business, anywhere, is paid for services not rendered. As such, the DISCOs should not be entitled to receive payment for services not rendered.

It is therefore heartwarming that despite opposition from the DISCOs, the lawmakers have taken the bull by the horn by expeditiously passing the bill to right the wrong. We urge the lawmakers to do everything within their power to pass the law in the interest of equity, fairness and justice.

Without doubt, the pro-people bill such as this will command public support. This is how to build strong institutions that will be more significant than strong men in the society. There are too many strong men in the electricity sector that even the regulators cannot handle. But the strongmen cannot be higher than the law. The law is above them.

Specifically, the bill, which seeks to amend the Electricity Power Sector Reforms Act prohibits and criminalises estimated billing of consumers. It seeks to outlaw estimated billing and prescribes penalties for DISCOs that fail to supply prepaid meters to their consumers within 30 days of applying to be connected to power.

Sponsored by the House Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, the bill prescribes penalties ranging from a fine of N500, 000 to N1 million or a term of six months imprisonment.It provides that, “all electricity charges or billings to the premises of every consumer shall be based strictly on prepaid metering and no consumer shall be made to pay any bill without a prepaid meter first being installed at the premises of the consumer.”

It is noteworthy that the electricity distribution companies opposed the bill at the initial stage and threatened mass disconnection of consumers should the law come into effect. This is an unfortunate development that the draft law should take care of. It is only this kind of milieu that firms that are customer-centric can threaten customers. This is a consequence of monopoly. That sector too deserves restructuring that will allow more operators to participate in the generation and distribution.

So, all the complaints, including the high cost of meters and alleged energy theft by consumers, which the DISCOs have raised may not be the main challenges at the moment. The issue is that the distribution firms have failed to answer one fundamental question: whether it is fair to bill consumers for services not rendered.

Interestingly, just as the critical bill was shaping up the other day, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, announced the approval of 108 firms to share prepaid meters. This is good coincidence.According to the power minister who spoke in Lagos, 108 metering companies had been given licenses to supply meters to address problem of discriminatory and arbitrary billing in the electricity sector.That would enhance enforcement of the bill when signed into law.

At the moment, there is an observed rip-off on the part of the DISCOs, which put the cost of a meter at N73, 000 as against the actual average cost of N20, 000. In the main, we strongly support the National Assembly in its bid to solve this intractable problem. Meanwhile, it should not be forgotten that one remarkable way to deal with the situation is to liberalise the production of meters as the minister had disclosed. The authorities including the framers of the law should ensure too that they walk this talk. They should legalise this liberalisation policy too.

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Babatunde FasholaDISCOs
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