Row over N50,000 pre-paid meters

*Labour imputs political motive

BY UDEME CLEMENT

The  move to make Nigerians pay between N25,000 and N50,000 for pre-paid meters under the  Credited Advance Pay for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) scheme has sparked controversy. While some people said consumers should cooperate with the Federal Government in order to fast track the process, others said government and contractors are playing politics with the issue.

Obviously, the directive on the fees on pre-paid meter is contrary to the initial pronouncement  by government that the meters will be distributed free to consumers of electricity in the country to ensure accurate billings both for domestic and industrial consumption.

Sources within Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Eko Distribution Zone Lagos  revealed that the directive takes effect from April 25, 2013, adding that the fees vary depending on what the individual consumer wants and the quantity of electricity consumption. It follows that consumers for three phase model may have to pay N50,000 and N25,000 for single phase.

Prepaid meters

Prepaid meters

A  top official of PHCN, who spoke under anonymity at the Ikeja Distribution Zone, said, “The issue is that people need to be enlightened about the entire process for them to have a clear understanding on how the new process works. For instance, the price tag people are complaining about is just a new method fashioned out to speed up the entire process, instead of the failed free meter scheme earlier proposed by government, because, at the end of the whole exercise, the money may still be refunded  to the consumers.

Pre-paid meters will be a lasting solution to the issue of estimated billing, which most people blamed PHCN for. What we should understand now is that following the new approach under CAPMI arrangement, pre-paid meters are still free at the long-run. The only thing is that advance payments are required to fast track the process, and, at the end of the exercise, the same money may be refunded through a rebate on a fixed charge element from customers’ bills. You can see that it’s very simply, because meters are free under the scheme as previously declared by government on June 1, 2012, to ensure transparency in the system”.

However, the Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Dr. Sam Amadi, explained, “The single phase pre-paid metres would be sold for N25,000, while three phase metres will go for N50,000, the final arrangement and announcement will be made on April 25, when CAPMI rolls out fully. The process will be very effective because about five Distribution Companies are to be used for the pilot scheme of CAPMI, these companies include Ibadan , Eko , Benin , Abuja and  Kano .

“The Commission is currently evaluating the bids submitted by various vendors. We don’t have a specific number of vendors to use but the preferred bidders will be announced. Nigerians should be patient with us as we are working tirelessly to come out with a hitch-free programme. The payment process is also being looked into, to ensure that everything is transparent.  The call for tenders by bidders is closed and short-listed vendors will be ratified and subsequently get approval from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).”

Meanwhile, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE)  is of the opinion that government is not transparent about the handling of the issue of pre-paid meters and epileptic power supply in the country. In a chat with Sunday Vanguard, the Assistant General Secretary, Education and International Relation,  NUEE, Mr. Igwebike Dominic, said, “What we experience every time in electricity supply is system failure.  There is confusion in the system. The reality is that government and contractors are playing politics with the issue of pre-paid meters. Why should government say  they want to import pre-paid meters when we can have a factory in Nigeria to produce it? Why should our economy be import dependent when other countries are growing their manufacturing sector to enhance rapid economic development?”

On whether government can realise the target of generating 10,000mw as proposed by January this year, he said, “Look at the challenge we are facing with erratic power supply in the country. Government can not even generate 4,000mw and sustain it. Today, we have 4,000mw and tomorrow it collapses to less then 3,500. This is because the system is not efficient and government is not sincere to the people. For instance, we are told to pay as much as N50,000 for pre-paid meters at present, but initially, government said the meters will be distributed free. So, you can see that there is serious confusion in the system and if government is not transparent in handling the problems facing the sector, we may not be able to meet the 10.000mw capacity, as proposed”.

He continued: “Last time they talked about increase in electricity tariff; we warned that government must not increase tariff without constant supply of electricity. The union is not in support of increase in electricity tariff when there is epileptic power supply in the country.  We totally condemned such plan.  Why should government mention increase in electricity tariff when the power sector is not functioning well?  How can they increase tariff when there is no electricity?  Why should government force people to pay for what they are not using? We are against such move and we will never support it”.

Current power generation capacity/ 10,000mw in 2013:
According to the Minister of State for Power, Hajia Zainab Kuchi, who spoke through her representative, Mrs Grace Papka, Director of Human Resources in the ministry, during a media training in Abuja, the average generation capacity of the power sector as at Dec. 2012 was between 4517.6mw and 6442mw, and government has plans to achieve 10,000mw electricity generation by last quarter of 2013.

She said, “The work plans and goals of the Ministry of power in 2013 include to diversify the energy mix such as Renewable energy, scaling up of rural access to electricity and to stimulate investment in the sector. We intend to source ways of funding power transmission, develop projects outside the budgetary provisions and foster bilateral relations. The Ministry will also focus on the development of new policy initiatives in order to address post privatisation challenges. We are going to focus also on strengthening the operations, setting of targets for generation, transmission and distribution sub-sectors.”

Shortage of gas to power electricity plants:
Experts are of the opinion that one of the major challenges facing the power sector in the country is shortage of gas to power the electricity plants.  Often power generation dwindles due to shortage of gas. So, the ambitious target of 10,000MW predicted by minister of power according to experts view will only be realised if government put measures in place to improve on gas supply to power electricity plants in  different parts of the country.

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