Regulatory dilemma on Discos
These are not the best of times for both the regulator of electricity in Nigeria, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission – NERC -and the service delivery agent of the industry, the discos, which are at the receiving end of the public fury at constant power failure all over the nation.
Under normal circumstances, NERC as the regulator should come down hard on poor service delivery by the discos. That is its duty. That is its regulatory mandate and that is its constitutional obligation. But given the information at its disposal can it really tell off the discos on poor service delivery when it knows that the playing ground for efficient service delivery is not level or conducive?
It was widely reported recently that the regulatory body has warned discos not to over-charge customers with estimates especially at this period of blackout all over the nation and has ordered the discos to accelerate the provision of meters nationwide. NERC, however, was bold enough to admit that the present spate of blackout for which the discos have become the scapegoats was caused by vandalisation of pipelines and lack of generation of any electricity at all at one stage by the electricity generating companies.
So how can the discos distribute what is not available? How too can the regulator sanction those it is regulating when it knows that the evidence of non-performance is not a true reflection of the state of affairs in the industry? This then is the dilemma facing NERC as the regulator who must whip the discos to order to ensure that Nigerians have light but whose hands are tied by circumstances beyond its control in effecting the regulation expected of it.
The way out of this regulatory dilemma that NERC finds itself is quite simple. It must shed its toga of washing its hands off generation of electricity and put pressure on government to generate more electricity by all means and stop paying lip service to the problem. It is nice to hear that the president has just promised 10,000 MW by end of this year, which is grossly inadequate but is far better than the highest of 4000MW in the last administration. At least with 10,000MW there is something on the ground unlike a few weeks back when all the 11 discos had nothing to distribute for a day or two; which really was a tragedy for the nation.
NERC certainly needs to add electricity generation collaboration to its mantra of regulation if it is not to be an undertaker for the discos, which are the geese to lay the golden eggs for constant electricity supply and delivery in Nigeria.
NERC knows the huge investment the discos have made and the regulatory objective of not making them lose their investment while ensuring at the same time that they do not exploit the Nigerian masses through exorbitant profits. But then it is the duty of government and NERC to create the enabling environment for discos to function efficiently and profitably and deliver electricity affordably and constantly to our homes, schools, hospitals and industries; to galvanise our economy and improve the quality of life for our people who have suffered so long in darkness and poverty in the midst of plenty. Regulation would be meaningful and purposeful if the regulator provides a fair playing ground for those it is regulating. Otherwise, it is unjust and unrealistic and would make quality service delivery of electricity – so much expected of the discos – a mirage for a long time to come.
Akinpelu, an engineer, writes from Abuja
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