30 December 2014, Abuja – Electricity distribution companies across the country may continue to extort money from their customers through ‘crazy bills’ as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has said that it is difficult to penalise the errant firms.
According to the commission, the difficulty is because a lot of electricity consumers who complain of being over-billed hardly make their complaints through the right channels.
The Chairman, NERC, Dr. Sam Amadi, admitted that consumers being given estimated bills were subjected to unfair pricing, but noted that the only way the commission could overcome the challenge was for the consumers to compare their bills with their metered neighbours.
Asked to state specifically when the regulator would start penalising the Discos for not properly metering the consumers, Amadi said, “We have started penalising them but the problem is that penalties for such developments are difficult because we don’t even know, especially when people don’t complain. If you didn’t raise this with me now, I wouldn’t have known. Again, the people who have such bills at home decide to stay quiet.
“There is the element of arbitrariness, which is human psychology; and, of course, there is the temptation to make money by the Discos because most of them are in a very rough financial state. So, the tendency for some of them to try to make some money through these arbitrary means will be there.”
The NERC boss said the commission would address the issue with samples, adding that it would ask questions that bordered on the frequency of such complaints.
He said the best way to deal with the power firms was through general sampling and “not a one-by-one case; then, we can zero in on them through patterns of consumer complaints.”
Amadi said consumers were encouraged to file their cases and should also copy the commission, stressing that sometimes, “consumers can refuse to pay bills and ask that the content of their bills be justified to them.”
He said NERC recently discovered that some of the Discos had up to N4bn lying dormant in their bank accounts, but stated that the commission had mandated the firms that any month they failed to meter consumers who have paid for meters, they would refund N5,000 to the customers.
“We will tell them soon the duration of that order,” he added.
Amadi further stated that NERC required enough evidence before penalising any Disco accused of fleecing consumers through crazy bills.
He said, “There are two possibilities if an estimated consumer receives an exorbitant bill. Firstly, it is either that power supply to his area has improved significantly, so this customer enjoys more electricity. The second likely option is that the distribution company increases electricity bills of these customers unfairly and claims that some people are chronically underestimated.
“Estimated customers, by virtue of their status, are subjected to unfair pricing. The only way they can overcome such a challenge without metering is to benchmark their bills with the bills of metered consumers within their areas, because the commission cannot determine proper billing without evidence.”
– The Punch