Abuja — The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has warned the nation's electricity distribution companies (Discos] to stop further arbitrary billing and illegal disconnection of electricity consumers.
It stated that such arbitrary billing and group disconnection of electricity consumers without consideration for those paying their bills constitute a gross abuse of consumers' rights.
The Director-General of the Council, Babatunde Irukera, gave the warning yesterday in Abuja at a meeting with top management of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) led by its Managing Director, Mr. Ernest Mupwara.
Irukera, who expressed understanding of challenges in the industry, stated that there is no excuse for how consumers are treated.
According to him: "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."
He further disclosed that consumers' complaints have not been primarily about supply, but about billing for non-existent supply, stressing that as a matter of fact, vast majority of supply complaints are attributed to the demand to pay for something that was not supplied and that of arbitrary disconnection.
He noted: "Discos have got 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.
"What Discos are doing is connecting their balance sheets to receivables from consumers, but consumers are connecting what they owe to what they receive."
"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. Government should never do that to its people. But if government does it as a state actor, as inexcusable as it is, it might even be permissible. But one person who has absolutely no right and should never have the prerogative to do it is a private citizen to another private citizen. And that is what Discos do," he added.
The AEDC managing director, who spoke on the need for the company to acquire a cost reflective tariff for a seamless and a more robust operation, stressed that fluctuation in foreign exchange rates and inflation impact on its activities.
He disclosed 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.
He stated: "The issue of estimated billing has not been fully resolved because of the low rate of metering, and this is closely tied with the impairment on the balance sheet which is tied to tariff issues. The balance sheets are impaired to the extent that we are facing huge challenges to attract investments. But I must say that the government, through the power sector recovery programme, has put up a plan that will address these gaps."