There is no point in overloading the apparent huge Metering Gap in the Electric Power Sector, which presently stands at over 55% of known and registered Customers. It could be more.
There also no point in showing the link between the present agitation by Customers on OverBilling, Crazy Billing, or Estimated Billing, whatever or however how you chose to look at it.
There has been different calls from several quarters on how to solve this clear and present danger, which the trickled down effect on liquidity of the whole Power Sector, and reduced trust of Customers and apathy to payment of Bills.
As a clear indication that whatever the Power Sector operators and policy makers are doing about it is not working, just look at the Collection Rate of ALL the Eleven Power Distributors.
PowerUp Nigeria, just as it led the campaign against the nebulous “Fixed Charges” and the eventual removal from Billing Methodology, also started the campaign for an Independent Metering Service Providers in 2015.
Two years later, after putting the position publicly to the Honorable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, at a televised Town Hall Meeting on Channels Television, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission published a draft regulation on December 22nd 2017, and by March 2018, launched the Meter Assets Providers regulation, in the hope that the much needed verve that is needed for a fast closing of the Metering Gap has been eventually accepted.
There is no point in bothering to go over all the loopholes in the Metering Assets Providers regulation as released, but even against better judgement, so much faith was trusted to the NERC to bring this to life as soon as possible.
The MAP regulation was supposed to kick into effect 3months after the March 2018 publish date, but 7 months after the MAP released date, and after all the huffs and puffs, the NERC came up with another public document asking for contributions on capping of Estimated Bills as demanded by the MAP regulation.
This simple diversionary act is counter productive, and as the Yorubas would say, tantamount to leaving leprosy to focus on healing ring worm. This is tokenism, to be seen as been active in finding solution to people’s agitations, but in actually not doing anything.
There are also indications from some quarters that the Distribution Companies are kicking actively against the Meter Asset Providers regulation, and that they do not want it to come to live. There has been boasts that from Distribution Companies that the MAP would not be a success. People are still asking for what happened to the CAPMI Scheme; the Scheme that was supposed and meant to close up the Metering Gap before the Distribution Companies came on board in November 2013.
This is primarily one of the loopholes that the MAP regulations allows, and of course, the fault is squarely on NERC’s foot. It Is one thing to actually want to fix a problem, it is actually another thing to proffers a solution that solves the problem and anticipated an issue like what the Distribution Companies are throwing up.
It is one of two things; (1)The MAP Regulation is a toothless regulation that was released as a tokenistic offer to make NERC look like actually proffering a solution, or (2) NERC, as a regulator itself, remains toothless, and as it was in the days of the Sam Amadi led Commission, clueless and too proud and naïve to ask for help.
Just as in the days of the Sam Amadi commission, NERC has been seen to focus on mundane things. NERC was in the news las week for demanding for SUVs at prizes that made President Buhari said NO outrightly to the demands to buy new vehicles.
Maybe it is just time to look again at the sources of funding of NERC. The Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005 that sets up NERC says that 1.5% of profit declared by Distribution Companies should be earmarked for the running of NERC.
Is this then a case of who is paying the piper?
Is it likely that NERC that is so under the thumb of the Distribution Companies be able to do anything about infractions by any of them?
Is it likely that any Customer can ever get a fair hearing from a NERC that is indebted to the Distribution Companies in any case? Have you ever wondered why it has been difficult to get judgement from NERC forum Offices anywhere in Nigeria while the Distribution Companies are paying for their sitting?
It must be noted here that the ongoing Electric Power Reform is just that. A REFORM is a continuous adaptation and adjustments until the right balance and the desired result is struck.
Therefore, the call for an Independent Meter Service Providers, or as NERC has termed it now, Meter Assets Providers, is apt, and should be deployed independent of the Distribution Companies.
While the MAP Regulation remains in a coma, any call by NERC for the capping of Estimated Bills is simply playing to the gallery.
It must be said here that even though NERC has been giving clearance to so many MAP Applicants(110 in numbers), check through the list shows it is a recycle of all names that has been dealing in the systems and in no way meant to fast the “close up” of the Metering Gap.
This NERC is not sincere, and bold enough to solve the agitation of Nigerian electricity consumers, and this posture speaks volumes as to why we have not been seeing new foreign investments in the Power Sector.
The NERC, and the Federal Minister of Power, Works and Housing has to do
It was however recommended to Honorable Femi Gbajabiamila and the House Committee on Power that instead of Criminalizing Estimated Billing, the House should adopt the Meter Assets Providers Regulation to amend the Electric Power Sector Reform Act so that independent Meter Assets Providers can also operate without depending on the electricity Distributors, who are unable to provide the necessary funds to maintain their networks, not to talk of Metering Customers.
Without making NERC independent of the Distribution Companies, and without making Meter Assets Providers truly independent of the Electricity Distributors, closing the Metering Gap in Nigeria remains a mirage, and NERC will continue to play to the gallery.
Adetayo Adegbemle is a public opinion commentator/analyst, researcher, and the convener of PowerUpNigeria, an Electric Power Consumer Right Advocacy Group, based in Lagos. (Twitter: @gbemle, @PowerUpNg)