Power firms insist on mass disconnection of debtors

05 June 2016, Lagos – Power distribution companies say they will go ahead with mass disconnection of electricity consumers who fail to pay their bills, especially historic debtors, such as the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the various levels of government.

Power transmission station

Power transmission station

This is coming despite the announcement by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission on Tuesday stopping outright disconnection of electricity to consumers by the Discos.

But the Discos said it would be wrong to stop them from continuing with the mass disconnection of debtors, declaring that nobody had the right to do that.

The Executive Director, Association of Nigeria Electricity Distributors, Mr. Sunday Oduntan, gave this indication on Friday in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH.

He said the NERC directive must have been misinterpreted by power users to mean that the Discos had no right to disconnect electricity consumers.

Oduntan said, contrary to the impression that the regulatory agency had halted the planned action, it gave the Discos the support to carry out the mass disconnection of chronic debtors’ electricity supply.

He was, however, quick to add that the Discos would not disconnect consumers who had paid their bills alongside those that were indebted to the firms.

Oduntan said, “Nobody can stop us from disconnecting en masse because we will continue to disconnect debtors, especially chronic ones like the MDAs. If you have 100 people living in a place, two of them are paying their bills; 98 others owe debts, we will disconnect the 98 and leave the two. But if you take out the whole community, that means two people are being cheated.

“Anybody anywhere who was disconnected despite paying their bill should come forward and I assure you that we will address the issue. That advert by NERC shouldn’t have come at this time. However, it should not be misinterpreted because we don’t disconnect those who pay their bills alongside with debtors.

“The advert was ill-timed because it is capable of misleading those who did not read the whole thing. If you read the whole thing, we are on the same page. But the question is: why did they put up such advert at this time? Is it necessary at this time? The answer is no. We shouldn’t be playing to the gallery.”

Oduntan further explained that “when the Discos say they are doing mass disconnection, what we mean is that we are disconnecting historic debtors en masse. We are not saying we are taking out an entire community.”

NERC had stated that its attention was drawn to the incidence of mass disconnection of electricity supply to communities, villages, local government areas and estates by distribution companies premised on purported non-payment of electricity bills.

Condemning the development, it declared, “The commission has also banned mass disconnection of electricity customers. Therefore, any community, village, local government area or estate wrongfully disconnected from electricity supply should report to the commission for its further action. Electricity customers who pay their bills should not be disconnected via a mass disconnection of his/her community, block of flats, estate, etc.”

But the report, it was gathered, warranted complaints from the Discos as they criticised the announcement by the regulator.

In a bid to clarify the position of the regulator with respect to the announcement, the Acting Chief Executive of NERC, Dr. Tony Akah, told our correspondent that the Discos were in order.

Akah said, “The Discos are in order. If the military is owing, they should disconnect them; if the Ministry of Power is owing, they should disconnect the whole ministry. This is because debt exposes the Discos to danger. Our order says those who have paid cannot be disconnected because they are not chronic debtors.

“But I really want you to understand that our ban on mass disconnection has no link with the recent move by the Discos to disconnect their chronic debtors. We made it clear that those who had paid their bills could not be disconnected. And we said communities, estates, villages, block of flats, because we got reports that about four communities were disconnected because they did not pay their bills. That’s not acceptable.”

The NERC boss also said, “We were not reacting to the earlier move by the Discos to massively disconnect their debtors. What they were doing was in order because it is part of the regulatory mechanism that we triggered for them to be more efficient and collect their money since all transactions in the value chain must be based on contract and backed up with credit.”

But consumers have criticised NERC and the Discos, as they claimed that it was becoming glaring that both bodies were forming an alliance against power users.

The National Secretary, National Electricity Consumer Advocacy Network, a consumes pressure group established by NERC, Mr. Obong Eko, told our correspondent that the regulator had always been on the side of the Discos.

He said, “All these are contradictions that you find in a supposedly unbiased umpire. NERC is supposed to be an unbiased umpire, but the commission has been spending so much time defending the operators, particularly the Discos.

“To the amazement of Nigerians, we found out that these people are defending the Discos and that is to show that the people there are not there to protect the interest of Nigerians, but for the operators and we don’t know why this is so. From the announcement and the actions of NERC, you will see that they say what they don’t mean.

“There was an order by NERC that there should not be mass disconnection; so coming out to start giving different interpretations to that order is what we don’t understand. Mass disconnection is mass disconnection; there is no better way to interpret it.”

 

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