Despite arguments by the Federal Government that the new electricity tariff has been established to ensure stable supply of power and guarantee efficient customer service delivery in the country, findings by the metering probe committee has revealed that it may take just more than tariff increase to achieve the desired result for the power sector. JULIET ALOHAN, examines the report and writes.
If findings by the metering probe committee instituted by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) are anything to go by, then it would take the federal government more than just tariff increase to reposition the nation’s power sector to achieve desired results.
Following the decay in the power sector, the present administration has adopted a power sector roadmap aimed at transforming the sector to ensure adequate and affordable electricity to Nigerians, and at the heart of this roadmap, is private sector participation.
Government has argued that securing private sector participation would not be possible without a review of the tariff to be cost reflective which would guarantee investors returns for their investment.
But apart from tariff raise, the Bamidele Aturu-led metering probe committee has among other recommendations noted that there was a high rate of criminality among the PHCN staff. It disclosed that cases of criminality were observed in some of the zones where it held public hearings, including Abuja, citing particularly, the case in Tudun Wada and Mopol Barracks in Abuja and Makurdi, where cases of criminality such as illegal distribution and sale of electricity was engaged in by some PHCN staff in connivance with some members of the public who paraded themselves as PHCN contractors.
The committee noted that without a strongly enforced disciplinary measure, such criminal exhibitions may continue, while calling on NERC and the Distribution Companies (DISCOS), to institute appropriate disciplinary measures to ensure that all forms of indiscipline being exhibited by some staff of the DISCOS were eliminated.
“NERC should intensify its monitoring and enforcement apparatus to ensure proper implementation of existing regulations on metering, billing and cash collection as well as overall improvement in customer service to eliminate the culture of impunity prevailing at present in the electricity sector. The era of arbitrariness should as a matter of urgency, be replaced with that of objectivity and decorum in dealing with electricity customer issues and complaints,” the report read in part.
The issue of capacity building was also brought to the fore by the committee report, where it urged NERC to encourage the distribution companies to undertake capacity building and training of their staff, particularly in the area of customer relations in order to promote better customer service in all DISCOS.
Furthermore, as a way to put to rest the financial constraints faced by the DISCOS in their efforts to bridge the existing metering gap, the report has recommended that they be given operational and financial autonomy to engage in innovative strategies of sourcing funds to meet their responsibilities, rather than extorting consumers.
This is in addition to a recommendation that the federal government should provide an intervention fund to close the metering gap. The committee has suggested an estimated N50 billion to close the gap and effectively erase backlog of meters.
This not withstanding,the committee expressed skepticism at the feasibility of the target of the 18 months duration given by NERC to meter all electricity customers. While it is in doubt that this target could be achieved, it has however, advocated a phased approach to achieve the target. “The Committee is however, apprehensive with this target of bridging the gap, given the huge metering crisis.The Committee recommends a phased but consistent approach in order not to create unrealistic expectations,” the report added.
Most importantly, it has been recommended that local production of meters would also go a long way in addressing the metering challenge faced in the country as a long term measure. “Indigenous companies should be encouraged to partner with foreign meter producers to set up factories in Nigeria for the manufacturing of all forms of meters and not just the present practice of assembling completely-knocked-down (CKD) parts,” the report further noted.
The NERC Chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi, in his response to the committee’s findings, admitted that it was critical to bridge the huge metering gap which he said would expose customers to paying for what they did not consume if not bridged. He said the Commission was already designing a framework to implement the committee’s recommendations adding that going forward, NERC would ensure judicious use of all capital expenditure approved by it for metering.
On the wide corruption level within the system as captured in the report, Amadi said the Commission was partnering with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti- corruption agencies to enforce strict discipline on funds usage, while assuring that it was also working out an estimation billing methodology that would be as accurate as possible in the meantime before the entire industry would be metered.
“I am sure that the 18 months period we have set to fully meter the industry is feasible because funds for metering are captured in the two years MYTO and there are also some stock of meters already on ground,” Amadi, stated.
He also admitted that the major crisis in the sector today has to do with governance framework of which he said the Commission was doing everything possible to effect a change. He vowed that the NERC would leave no stone unturned in ensuring the implementation of the committees report.
, adding, “The committee can hold NERC accountable for the non-implementation of this report.”
The committee and indeed the entire Nigerians would hold the Commission responsible should the recommendations end up in the trash.