ISLAMABAD: A preliminary analysis of random data of electricity distribution companies (Discos) has found massive presumptive billing, overcharging and increase in system losses, leading to an outburst of public anger and increased consumer complaints.
These initial findings are based on evaluation of about 150,000 consumer data across 10 distribution companies of Wapda (Water and Power Development Authority) conducted by a team headed by prime minister’s special assistant Dr Mussadik Malik.
Malik is expected to submit a report to the federal cabinet on Sept 22 (Monday) that would suggest lifting a ban on recruitment of meter readers.
“We have moved a summary for fresh inductions and hope to get approval for induction of at least 50 per cent against vacant posts of meter readers immediately,” a water and power ministry official confirmed. He declined to give the number of vacant posts but said the shortage was in tens of thousands.
According to informed sources, Malik has also identified removal of slab benefit, higher electricity consumption in July and August and the pressure on the workforce of distribution companies to improve recoveries as some of the reasons behind a public unrest.
It has been noted that about 30 to 35pc billing was taking place in a presumptive manner because of a serious shortage of meter reading workforce because of a continuous ban on fresh recruitments for more than a decade now.
This means that about a third of total meters are not read and billing is done on the pattern of previous months or years. Simply put, reading of each meter takes place every third month on average.
The overall financial impact of estimated billing, overcharging, cooked-up consumption was estimated at about Rs15-16 billion for July.
The situation was almost the same in August that led to an uneasy discussion during a meeting of the federal cabinet a few days back. The prime minister directed Malik to investigate the issue and submit a report.
Reports were also received where electricity units were added in case consumption was in close range of higher rate slab. For instance, a consumer having actual monthly consumption of 190 units should be charged Rs5.79 units for 100 units and Rs8.11 per unit for next 90 units. However, the reading was intentionally increased to 205 units, which raised the rate to Rs12.9 per unit.
The rate for consumption above 300 jumps further to Rs16 per unit. Consumers having digital time of day meters are at double disadvantage because they are straightaway charged at Rs12.50 per unit for off-peak and Rs18 for peak consumption even if they consume less than 200 units and do not qualify for protected or subsidised category. About 65pc of consumers fall in the category of 200-400 unit consumption per month.
An official of the water and power ministry said the increase of just a few units in this case resulted in an increase of Rs900 for a consumer.
There is little chance a consumer could notice this change in reading because of almost a 10-day gap between meter reading and bill delivery.
Perhaps this was the reason that consumer complaints were unprecedented during the months of July and August in majority of distribution companies except in case of Peshawar Electric Supply Company where a programme supported by a US fund required photo-read of meters.
He, however, claimed that there was no evidence or indication to suggest any instruction from the power ministry or systematic approach to building bills. There was, however, clear indication that as the power supply was increased in some cases to 16,500 MW, the losses of power companies increased which showed the tariff increase was also resulting in increased theft or pilferage.
Therefore, the distribution companies have been asked to ensure at all costs the full payment of electricity they procured from the central power purchase agency (CPPA) or else be held accountable for failure.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2014