opinionBy Emmanuel Edukugho
Some aspects of the privatisation process in Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) may be heading towards murky waters as many electricity consumers have been thrown into limbo over how to get the new pre-paid meters that seemed elusive even though few people in some places already are in possession of the equipment.
When the Electricity Power Sector Roadmap was launched, consumers were told to expect increase in tariff and other charges in the wake of the privatisation. Efficiency of operations and uninterrupted supply of power were guaranteed. Thereafter, power generation rose appreciably but not so steady.
While at the same time not as erratic as it used to be in the recent past.
Initially, the sum of N25,000.00 in bank draft was what should be paid for the new meter. But it is no longer the case as such payment has been put on hold. According to a reliable PHCN source, no fee is charged for the new meter.
"As long as your house or premises had been metered and you've been paying bills regularly, the customer is not required to pay any amount in order to get the new pre-paid meter. Anyone asking for any amount to accompany the submission of the application for electricity supply and agreement form is only trying to rip-off the customer. Any such thing should be reported to the appropriate quarters for sanction," our source said.
A consumer must show evidence through bills paid and machined to authenticate payment, otherwise such will be deemed as illegally using power without paying to PHCN. It has been discovered that some consumers don't pay because when corrupt PHCN officials come around, they are offered money which goes into their private pockets, denying PHCN legitimate revenue.
Many customers have been parading several PHCN offices seeking to collect the new meters but to no avail. A lot of the customers have even paid for the meters which are not available for commercial distribution to people.
For Lagos metropolis, Eko Electricity Distribution Company Plc (EKEDC) is supplying electricity to customers subject to some terms and conditions as contained in the application form.
EKEDC supplies Alternating current at a frequency of 50 Hertz. The medium voltage supply is either 230 volts single phase or 400 volts three phase.
Wiring installation should be done to the approval of EKEDC which will inspect and test the installation free of charge at first instance. For all subsequent tests, a fee per test is payable in advance. The nature and location of service lines and other supply facilities are determined by EKEDC.
It was stipulated in the agreement that the customer shall give EKEDC all reasonable and necessary access to the customer's premises for the purpose of connecting, disconnecting, inspecting, testing, altering, replacing, maintaining or removing any service line, meter, or other apparatus or any part thereto and for reading the meter. The customer shall pay a fee for each special meter reading made on request.
On Testing and Accuracy of Meters it was stated that should the customer or EKEDC give notice disputing the accuracy of a meter, such meter will be tested by EKEDC. If the customer feels his meter is inaccurate, his notice to that effect should be accompanied by an amount of money or desposit to cover the cost of the test. In the event of the meter having an error exceeding the limits of error as may be allowed by the regulations in force, the amount payable for electricity charges for the period for which the customer is charged on the last invoice rendered prior to the notice of dispute will be determined by correcting the registration in question by reference to the degree of inaccuracy shown by the test and the deposit returned to the customer.
If the meter has ceased to register, the customer will pay to EKEDC such amount as may be estimated by EKEDC to be payable for that period.
As regards to payment for electricity, the agreement stipulated that from the date of supply, the customer shall pay monthly for all electricity supplied in accordance with a tariff in force. Official receipts are issued by EKEDC for all payments made to it. Customers are advised to check at each occasion that the amount machine-printed in their receipted bills correspond to the sum paid by them.
However, the question bothering the minds of many customers is why are pre-paid meters not available generally or nationwide in the first place.
When Saturday Vanguard went to some PHCN offices, customers were seen complaining about outrageous and unacceptable bills coming from the power company some cases showing over 200% increase over previous bills.
"There is considerable improvement and stability in electricity supply for now, but that does not mean we should be exploited through highly excessive bills", bemoaned Dayo Yusuf, a victim of "crazy" PHCN bills.
He said that PHCN should make pre-paid meters available so as to address this problem of outrageous bills. "You can actually know what you've consumed and pay accordingly if we have the meters."
At the PHCN Agbarah/Badagry District Office, the Manager, Public Affairs, A.K. Ibrahim said he was not in the position to answer questions on the pre-paid meters but directed me to his boss at the corporate headquarters in Marina, Lagos.
"This is a policy issue and I cannot say anything on it. Go to my superior officers in Marina who can grant you interview. There is hierarchy in public service/ I can't speak on this issue."
But Ibrahim explained that no customer is expected to pay for the pre-paid meters and if there are PHCN officials demanding money for the new meters, such should be reported and disciplinary actions will be taken against them.
On "crazy" bills, he said that there are also "crazy" customers who don't pay electricity bills.
If there are 10 consumers in a premises and only three pay their bills regularly, it means that they are paying for the other seven.
"The ideal thing is for all customers to pay their bills and when payment is spread evenly to all customers, then it will come down and therefore not too much." The energy is purchased from somewhere and must be paid for. If some people are not paying, there will be too much burden for the ones paying hence everyone using PHCN electricity should pay.
He pointed out that the reason for difference in tariff is because of proximity to the source of power generation. For example, customers in some parts of Lagos metropolis pay slightly less than others if you consider the distance of transmission from Egbin Power Station, Ikorodu to other places.
The public affairs manager said the power sector reforms will impact positively on the socio-economic development of the country as assured by President Goodluck Jonathan. He noted that many companies have been created out of PHCN to handle generation, transmission and distribution as a result of the privatisation exercise. Even the PHCN staff will be affected in the long run in terms of their retention, severance benefits and entitlements which are still under negotiation. There is no doubt that every Nigerian is entitled to affordable electricity going by the transformation agenda of President Jonathan.
Any abnormal and inconsiderate increase in electricity bills will make life difficult for the ordinary people, many of them living under $1 per day.
Electricity drives small scale businesses and even the big ones, prohibitive tariff will adversely affect everyone, stifle productivity and worsen the unemployment situation in the country.
For some customers, their bills keep fluctuating each month, rising and coming down.
"Last month (September) PHCN gave me a bill of N9,000. When I went to complain, the bill given in October was N6,000.. I don't even know how they came about the bill because I have no meter as I am still expecting pre-paid," lamented a lady who refused to disclose her name.
At the PHCN office in Ketu along Mile 2/Badagry Express Road, an official affirmed that customers will begin to enjoy uninterrupted power supply, but at high cost.
"You will now be getting constant electricity, but you are going to pay more. It's not going to be like the previous years you will now pay increased tariff," she warned.
While customers are anxious to get the pre-paid meters believing that these would help for accurate billing and check outrageous bills, the problem is non-availability of the new meters. Most customers trooping to PHCN offices expressed dissatisfaction with the situation, causing them terrible nightmare some who have paid the initial N25,000 bank draft are becoming frustrated, afraid that their money had been trapped.