‘Why bill to criminalise estimated billing may not work’
Some stakeholders in the power sector, yesterday, expressed serious worry over a bill at the National Assembly aiming to criminalise estimated billing of electricity consumers by distribution companies, stressing that the proposed law will not work.
The industry players, who insisted that the bill was not the right way to go, stated that the sector is failing not because there were no enough legislations, but poor implementation of existing laws. The House of Representatives had passed the bill, which was sponsored by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila. If approved by the Senate and assented to by the President, the bill will award either a one-year jail term or a fine of N1m or both for utility providers involved in arbitrary billing.
In the absence of pre-paid meter, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory agency developed a methodology to allow distribution bill consumers. Former chairman of NERC, Sam Amadi, said the proposed law will not work and is not the right way to go, stressing that there was no need to criminalize a technical or managerial problem.
According to him, estimated metering and lack of metering are technical problems which cannot end in a day, adding that while interventions were needed, it must not be criminalization.“First, if you pass that law today, it means that every DisCo that does not provide all customers meters and still bill them has committed an offense. So you have to prosecute the officials immediately, otherwise, you create impunity that arises when a clear violation is not prosecuted. This will be a bedlam.
“But we can retool the law to put an obligation on NERC to take clear and hard actions on any DisCo that fails to meter customers at a definite and reasonable time period,” Amadi said. Amadi said creating a legal obligation on the regulator to take clear and punitive action on failure to meter remained the proper legislative approach.
Since it will take a certain period to meter all, he noted that legislature may mandate a clear estimated methodology that is proven and corruption-free, adding that the bill needed to be reworked to fit into a regulated market.
The National President of Association of Public Policy Analysts (APPA), Princewill Okorie, noted that there are currently many infractions of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) that have not been properly addressed.
“The reconnection fee that is currently being collected is criminal but no one has been prosecuted. Giving consumer estimated bill without following the methodology is unlawful, so do we need another bill for people, who disobey EPSRA? There is need to enforce the act that is in existence instead of thinking of a new one,” he said.
Okorie said the National Assembly and key agencies, especially the regulator must educate consumers on their rights, stating that the National Assembly has not lived up to expectation in the power sector. According to him, no structure is in place to ensure that the existing act is fully and properly implemented.
Partner, Nextier Powe, Emeka Okpukpara said the problem in the country is not all about law but the lack of proper implementation. He said government needed to carefully look at mechanism for implementation, adding that while the proposed tends to fine DisCos, some of the DisCos have been working freely though they have not remitted for the power they purchase.He said: “It is interesting to have these laws but without implementation, nothing will move forward.