In search of fair treatment for electricity consumers as FCCPC tackles IE, EKEDC
Across virtually all sectors in Nigeria, consumers are unfairly treated and taken for granted with little action(s) taken by regulators. Often times, consumers are left to withdraw their financial powers or in the case of essential services, get used to being served poorly. Will the meeting between the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) and distribution companies in Lagos (Ikeja Electric and EKEDC) address the metering and services gap as well as concerns of consumers? Time will tell. FEMI ADEKOYA writes.
To check monopoly and protect consumers from unfair prices, President Muhammadu Buhari, in February this year, assented to the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, thereby making it the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection (FCCP) Act 2019.
The Act prohibits agreements made to restrain competition such as agreements for price fixing, price rigging, collusive tendering, etc. (with specific exemptions for collective bargaining agreements, employment, among others).
Under the new Act, the FCCP Commission replaces the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) established by the Act, and also makes provision for the establishment of a Tribunal to handle issues and disputes arising from the operations of the Act.
While the move has been lauded by operators, consumers believe more should be done by the FCCPC in getting a reprieve for them from actions of many business entities that provide essential services.
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, Nigerians’ trust in government, business, and non-governmental organisations remain on the decline.
Though the FCCPC was able to get the court to back its actions against businesses found to be engaged in unfair pricing, there are concerns about its ability to secure compliance and also extend its influence across other sectors where consumer complaints are very loud.
In a bid to address some of such consumer concerns, the FCCPC coordinated a meeting with electricity consumers of Ikeja Electric and Eko Electricity Distribution Company in Lagos, on their challenges and the way forward in the electricity sector.
The meeting, which was in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, was geared towards providing a platform for dialogue and constructive engagement amongst all stakeholders in the Ikeja and Eko Power Distribution ecosystems.
The problem as identified by FCCPC
Consumers who attended the meetings were visibly aggrieved and called for action against the DISCOs accusing them of incompetence, high handedness, insincere billings, hoarding of meters amongst others.
Consumers under the EKED network were less violent, which was attributed to the company’s better interactions with their customers, but aggrieved consumers alleged daylight robbery by the field workers of Ikeja DISCO.
The Chief Executive Officer of the FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera in his remarks highlighted the following as challenges in the electricity sector; the billing system which is now considered as outrageous for most of the consumers/crazy bills; group disconnection; the load shedding system, as the FCCPC urged the Discos to find a way to distribute electricity fairly to all people in the community; provision of equipment through contributions by consumers which should not be; and responsiveness and sensibility to roles and assignments.
Irukera urged the Ikeja Electric Distribution Company to ensure that they perform their duties with full quality service to the consumers.
Transparency in the operations of Discos
He pointed out the need for transparency in the operations of the distribution companies while urging customers to be disciplined and civil in their engagement with the companies.
Irukera argues that companies need to begin to be more transparent in the way they do their business.
Irukera agreed that there was absolutely no reason people should pay for what they have not consumed. He noted the infrastructure challenge and poor customer relationship.
For the period over which estimated billing will subsist, he makes a case for rational, transparent, reasonable bills, and insist that there should be a linear connection between the bill estimate and actual usage. He argues that the arbitrariness in the billing must stop.
Discos have to be more responsible
He believes that the next thing that needs to happen is that distribution companies need to be more responsible. They must work to recover their debt and hold the communities accountable for unpaid liabilities. He insists that Group Disconnection must stop.
The FCCPC DG asserted that the Discos must improve their operational efficiency and ensure that their equipment such as transformers is upgraded, to meet the demands of their customers. He castigated Disco officials for deceiving customers into spending money on replacing transformers and other equipment; a practice he says must stop.
“What I will call for is regulators coming together to meet with these companies and find ways to address the problems and penalize infractions appropriately. I believe a stick and carrot regime of regulation would prove effective. Ensuring good conduct in the power sector is not what the regulator can handle alone; it needs the support of other operators and consumers.”
He further points out that, “we are in a difficult situation in the sense that; we are trapped between a rock and a hard place. We cannot cancel licenses at this point, so we are condemned to work with what we have and nurture the process and people for improved performance.”
Enabling environment for competition in the electricity sector
Irukera tasked the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) to step up its game and ensure that regardless of the challenges, there is no excuse for people to pay for what they have not consumed.
The regulatory boss decried the use of armed policemen in community operations of Discos. The use of police officers to enforce their rights to payment without court orders, he says, is illegal.
He insists that debt recovery should be approached in a manner that does not infringe upon the rights of consumers.
On the part of the consumers, Irukera stated the need for consumers to be awake to their responsibility, such as making undisputed payment of the bill to get solutions to pressing issues.
He added that there was a need for increased sensitization and cooperation with the Discos, in order to tackle and address illegal electricity connections in the community.
Furthermore, he cautioned consumers on the issue of violence, urging communities to restrain from acts of violence against the operators of electricity that are allocated to their areas.
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The Director of Surveillance and Enforcement, Sham Kalo at the forum, said the responsibility of the FCCPC was to take all the complains from the consumers and make sure the service provider which is Ikeja Electricity attends to all complaints, with FCCPC following to ensure all the issues raised are properly addressed.
Kalo also informed the consumer’s forum that the FCCPC is working directly with the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC on regulations that concern the electricity industry and consumers rights.
He stressed that it was very important for consumers to know their rights and responsibilities by paying their bills regularly.
The representative of the CEO of Ikeja Electricity, Sunday Oyewole pledged the commitment of the company to collaborate with the regulators and authorities and ensure improved service delivery to all the consumers.
Oyewole on behalf of the Ikeja Disco appreciated the support of the customers and assured the FCCPC, that it would continue its drive to satisfy the customers.
He lauded the MAP initiative (Meter Asset Provider) which is a regulation geared towards ensuring that meters are provided to customers across the country.
Oyewole, however, decried the lack of cooperation in some communities, which has impeded the work of the staff in carrying out their duties and called on representatives of the communities affected to assist in ensuring a seamless relationship with the Discos.
Deputy General Manager Consumer Affairs, NERC, Shittu Shuaibu who delivered a speech on behalf of the Chairman/CEO Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, Professor James H. Momoh, described the forum as a significant opportunity to resolve consumer issues in the electricity sector.
“Metering is of great concern to the commission and the federal government in the light of the commission. The commission has situated mention to accelerate metering through regulatory means such as the meter asset provider regulation of 2018,” Shuaibu said.
According to him, data available to the commission showed the present metering gap in the industry is about 5.04million compared to total customer population of 8.8million representing about 57% deficit the metering.
Speaking further the NERC official stated that the distributions companies had done extensive work on their customer enumeration in determining the actual metering gap as well as performed adequate KYC to reduce electricity theft and provide good service delivery to their esteemed customers.
Shuaibu said it is expected that the metering gap will be closed within the next three years with effective implementation of discos metering roll-out plan.
Shuaibu said the commission had established a customer complaints forum in 25 states of the federation as part of the mechanism, to ensure that customers complaints are speedily resolved.
“Today, we are conducting this town hall meeting to encourage further consumers worried by lack of meters and various complaints to follow the already lay down procedure by the commission in resolving their complaints against various Discos,” Shuaibu said.
Consumers at the forum expressed their concerns and frustrations with the services of the Ikeja Electricity Company and tasked the Disco to improve its services while calling on the regulators to ensure transparency and accountability in the sector.