The House of Representatives said on Monday that it had no plan to step down a proposed bill to criminalise estimated billing by electricity distribution companies in the country.
The bill, which seeks to amend the Electricity Power Sector Reforms Act, has successfully passed second reading and the public hearing stage.
It seeks to outlaw estimated billing and prescribes penalties for Discos that fail to supply prepaid meters to their customers within 30 days of applying to be connected to power.
The bill, sponsored by the Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, prescribes penalties ranging from a fine of N500,000 to N1m or a prison term of six months.
The bill provides partly read, “All electricity charges or billings to the premises of every consumer shall be based strictly on pre-paid metering and no consumer shall be made to pay any bill without a pre-paid meter first being installed at the premises of the consumer.”
However, after the House concluded a public hearing on the bill last week, many Discos opposed the bill and threatened mass disconnection of power to premises should the law come into effect.
The Discos have raised complaints, including the high cost of meters and alleged energy theft by consumers as some of the challenges they want to be addressed by the authorities urgently.
But, reacting to the threats on Monday, Gbajabiamila noted that the Discos stepped up their opposition to the bill shortly after the public hearing was concluded in a bid to distract the House from its aim of ending estimated billing.
He argued that no matter the excuses given by the Discos, the most basic question they had refused to answer was whether it was fair to bill customers for services not rendered.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, ot TheNigerialawyer he said, “The question they refuse to address is that, is it right, moral or even legal in a service industry to bill people (consumers) for services not rendered or for power not consumed?
“I have heard and read so many arguments from the discos and remain unconvinced with none of their arguments compelling.”
On the high cost of meters, an excuse often given by the Discos, Gbajabiamila replied that the simple option was to allow consumers buy their meters directly from the manufacturers, while the Discos would connect the power to residences.
He explained, “This is easy to address. First, the Discos don’t have to pay for the meters. Beyond the Meter Asset Provider initiative, customers should be allowed direct purchase from manufacturers or retailers, pretty much the same way you are allowed to buy a handset of your choice and you go to your service provider to provide you with a SIM card and line. It’s that simple.
“All the government needs to do is to certify the meter through some quality assurance mechanism. This way the Discos are absolved of the cost of providing meters.
“I am surprised that in a recent interview, a spokesman for one of the Discos put the cost of a meter at N73, 000. This appears stranger than fiction, as the average cost of a meter is meant to be N20, 000.”
The House leader also dismissed the claim of the Discos that estimated billing was still being practised in other countries.
He said where it existed, it was meant to resolve a temporary challenge or to take care of places that there was difficulty in having access to meters.
Gbajabiamila added, “Let me make this clear; the countries referred to are not Nigeria where corruption is the order of the day. In those countries, estimation is the exception and not the norm. The law in those countries mostly permits estimated billing where for some reason, for example, inclement weather, difficulty in accessing the meter, the presence of ferocious dogs, broken meter etc, the meter cannot be read.”