Unbundling PHCN and outrageous bills regime

Crazy bill is one latest coinage popular among Nigeria electricity consumers. The electricity service providers however, refer to it as estimated billing system. This regime of billing has been causing some disquiet in the relationship between the electricity consumers and the providers across the country.  MUSA ADAMU examines the development


Estimated billing system or crazy bills, as consumer would love to call it, is a regime of billing where the electrify provider does not need to read your meter to ascertain what a customer consumes before billing him. The service provider results to this when a customer is not metered.
The challenge of metering the customers is a situation that predates the current private service providers.  The situation existed even at the time when government through NEPA/ PHCN, provided the electricity service and what was employed to recoup some investment then was the use of estimated billing.
The difference however, is that while government  may not insist on recouping every kobo it put in to provide the service, the private operators would not only insist on recouping but would ensure that its makes profit from its investment.
This is what makes the estimated system of billing new to the customers. The private operators, who privately source for funds to invest and provide the service, is now biting deeper and harder into its customers pocket to repay their debts to the debtors, service their logistics and make profits for their shareholders.

Cries against crazy bills
Spearheading the outcries, one of the political parties in the country which organised a protest in Lagos covered by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the National Conscience Party (NCP’s) decried what it termed exploitation of the masses by the “gluttony capitalists.”
National Chairman of the NCP, Dr Yunusa Tanko, presented a protest letter itemising their grievances to the management of the NERC.
Tanko said that the bills given to consumers and the payments they were compelled to make, without light, was unfair to them, saying that the protest was to awaken the consciousness of the ordinary Nigerian.
“This will also serve as a wake-up call to every Nigerian because this oppression has to stop,” he said.
Speaking at the protest rally, a resident of Iyana-Ipaja, Mr Friday Arinze,  said poor Nigerians in their millions, could not afford such electricity bills.
“The bills they give us now is too exorbitant; they should allow the power to be regular. With the way they are going, the poor will not be able to live in this country, as the standard of living is becoming unbearable for the ordinary man,” he said.
Similarly, a business man, Mr Jeremiah Olaoye, bemoaned the epileptic electricity supply in his area.
Olaoye described bills for electricity consumers as outrageous, adding that the categorisation of consumers was wrong.
“There were times we didn’t have light in my area for months and at my shop, yet they brought us bills of about N3,500? I am appealing to them to provide constant electricity and they also need to reduce the charges; it is unfair,” he said.
In the same vein, a business woman, Mrs Falilat Adeyemi, urged the new investors in the nation’s energy sector to overhaul their billing system.
“We want stable power supply because we burn fuel every day, thereby wasting money unnecessarily,” she said.
Also speaking at a recent stakeholders’ consultative event on CAPMI in Abuja, a representative of the Mpape community in the FCT, Prince Peter Osadolor, said apart from the epileptic power supply in the community, the customers had also be contending with ‘crazy bills.”
Citing example with himself, Prince Osadolor said his bill had jumped from N5000 per month to N20, 000 with no completing power service increased.

DISCOs also complain
Even at this rate, the service providers have continued to complain of revenue losses, expressing fear of failure to service their debts if the NERC continues to turn down their request for upward review of electricity tariff. They contend that the tariff is not realistic and not cost reflective.
Thus far, the commission has stood its ground and refusing to yield ground, saying they must come forward with cogent and verifiable reason why their needs should be met.

CAPMI scheme to the rescue  
To overcome the challenge of metering and the failure of the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) to keep to their pledge in their business plan to meter their customers, The NERC yielded to the suggestion from some customers and DISCOs for an arrangement where a customer will advance payment for the purchase and installation of meter, while he recoups his investment over a period of time with interest.
This is so because by the electricity tariff arrangement, a customer is entitled to a meter without upfront payment.
This arrangement is known as Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI). The commission described it as a child of necessity to serve as a stop gap for the willing customers who can’t wait to escape the prevailing estimated billing regime adopted DISCOs.
Explaining the wisdom behind the CAPMI, through one of its staff, Mr Bello, the commission said: “One of the priorities of the commission is the speedy metering of customers. Numerous customers’ complaints indicate a high level of dissatisfaction with the way they are billed by the DISCOs.
“Currently, no upfront payment for meters is required of customers. The commission considers it expedient to explore either avenues of ensuring that customers are metered to eliminate wildly estimated bills.”
The scheme provides that these advance payments are subsequently refunded through a rebate on the fixed charge component of their electricity bills.
The main advantage of this arrangement is the expectation that it will minimize estimation of the customers’ tariff payment and enhance revenue collection of the DISCOs.

CAPMI remains largely untapped virgin scheme 
Addressing the concerns of both the regulators and the customers at gathering of a public consultation on the implementation of CAPMI in Abuja recently, executive director, regulatory and stakeholders’ affairs, of one of the DISCOs in the country, the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), Engr. Abimbola Odubiyi, disclosed that so far out of 737,535 verifiable customers on its data base, only 12, 628 customers had availed themselves with the CAPMI window.
From his revelation therefore, and the evidential continued outcries against estimated or crazy billings system across the country, the story is the same with other DISCOs. NERC CAPMI scheme has remained largely untapped.
He appealed to those who had paid for the meter under the CAPMI scheme to come forward with evidence of payment for installation.

Bridging metering gap     
The company, however, declared its intention to close the metering gap via mass metering programme to commence soon. He said on taking over the company in November last year, the company was inundated with complaints by some of its customers with claims that they had paid for the meter before privatisation.
He said in addressing this grievance, the company had set aside about 1,200 customers and had metered about 600 of them. He also announced that the company would soon roll out its 8000 per month metering programme in line with its business plan.

The way out  
Analysts have contended that customers must do themselves a world of goodness by subscribing to the CAPMI scheme, arguing as long as  the DISCOs keep getting money for service not rendered at the end of every month they would have any motivation to supply meters to the customers.
They further reasoned that by getting metered via CAPMI scheme, the service providers would be forced to step up their service since they would realise   that their revenue inflow would depend how service they provide at the end of the day.

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