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Expect Chaos if you Criminalise Estimated Billing–NERC Warns Reps

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

The National Assembly has been warned of an imminent danger in the power sector if it attempts to criminalise the issuance of estimated bills by power distribution companies, fondly called discos, to unmetered customers.

At the moment, consumers of electricity in the country, who have not been metered by their discos, pay huge amount of money for their monthly power consumption as a result of the estimated billing system currently in operation.

This week, a bill sponsored by a lawmaker from lagos, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking a law to criminalise estimated billing for electricity consumers in the country, passed second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Reacting to this development, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) said passing this bill could spell doom on the struggling power sector in Nigeria.

Commissioner for Finance and Management Services at NERC, Mr Nathan Shatti, emphasised that a regulation that deals with estimated billing already exists in the power sector, stressing further that another law on the same matter may lead to a complete disorder in the industry.

Mr Shatti disclosed that the commission had met with the lawmaker, who sponsored the bill, to explain why it would not be right to have such a law at the moment.

“Few weeks ago, a bill was presented on the floor of the House of Representatives about criminalising estimated billing and ensuring prepaid meters supply. We went to meet the main sponsor of the bill and we told him that we already have a regulation on this to address the issues. And we told him that you should go by that rule, there would be chaos in this industry.

“‘And even if this is for one week, it will be in his record and he will not be able to contest in an election. That is the kind of law we want.’ And honestly, he (lawmaker) was happy with our submissions and he said they were going to look into it,” he added.

He stated that the commission was pleased with the concern of the House of Representatives, but stressed that one of the major challenges in the power sector was energy theft.

“So, we really like what they (lawmakers) are doing and this is because they are bringing to the fore the sufferings of people for all Nigerians to know. They do this because they have the voice and they have constituencies to go back to. Also, remember that 2019 is by the corner; they have to show their people that they are doing something,” he added.

The commissioner also stated that meter bypass was beyond what NERC regulations could address, adding that those involved in energy theft were usually people who could be classified as senior citizens.

He, however, noted that the commission would send a team to Ghana to visit a company that claimed to be manufacturing meters that could detect energy theft.

“Next week, a team from NERC is going to Ghana, because we got a company that is actually devising a kind of meter that can detect energy theft. They came, made a presentation and we felt what they are showing is good and so, our team is going to Ghana to look at it.

“But let me just explain something about meter bypass or energy theft; it is beyond regulation and it is beyond enforcing the regulation. It is also beyond technology. There is no amount of technology or checks that you will do to eliminate energy theft.

“However, there are things you can do and it has to do with our moral psyche as Nigerians. If you check properly, the calibre of people who steal energy are the top guys. They are those people who you think will never do such things, not the small people in the society. So, it is a problem of a society and we all have a responsibility to stop it,” Punch quoted the senior official of NERC as saying.

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Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan.

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