ISLAMABAD: The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) has barred the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) from charging estimated accumulated bills to its consumers in Sindh and Balochistan for defective metering unless proven by laboratory tests.

Informed sources said there were complaints that SSGCL had been issuing estimated bills to consumers on the basis of past one-year to three-year average consumption on a case to case basis from the day it noticed defective meter or suspicious reading under different categories.

“This was not in accordance with law and not authorised by any legal forum, neither by the government nor by the regulator,” explained a senior official.

The categories include meter out of order, defective, pass unregistered gas (PUG), inaccurate reading or registering erroneously.

“Under clause 10 of the Contract (signed with the consumer), the company may charge estimated consumption to the consumer if and only if it is established through testing of the gas meter that the same is out of order/defective/PUG/inaccurate/registering erroneously,” warned the regulator in a letter to the managing director of SSGCL.

The regulator further explained that “charging of estimated consumption before testing of gas meter is not in line with the contract, hence is incorrect.”

Ogra ordered SSGCL to follow standard contract for retail consumers in true letter and spirit.

A spokesperson for the SSGCL said the company had itself sought a clarification from the regulator if it was authorised to charge one-year or three-year estimated bill from consumers in case of defective metering or billing.

In response, the regulator had explained that only one-year estimated consumption could be billed because it was also the responsibility of the company to detect faults and the one-year time period was reasonably sufficient to share this responsibility. The spokesman said the company is now aware that the regulator has restricted this estimated billing to prior testing.

An Ogra official said even the lab testing did not meet fair and equitable standards of justice. No independent testing is available in the country and the tests are conducted by the gas utility itself, the official added.

Responding to a question, he said no complaint has been received so far to suggest the SSGC’s lab testing was unfair or favoured the utility.

He conceded that ideally meter testing laboratories should be independent belonging to a third party. He, however, hastened to add the even the electricity consumers had to trust lab tests of power companies.

In a letter to MD SSGCL, Ogra explained in detail relevant clauses of the contract between the consumer and the gas company.

It said that section 10 (ii) stipulated that the register of the meter maintained by company shall be prima facie evidence of the volume of gas consumed, but should the accuracy of the meter be disputed and the meter be officially tested and be found to register erroneously, the meter shall, if the period of inaccuracy is not known or ascertainable, be deemed to have registered erroneously to the degree so found for the past 60 days and the period of adjustment on either side shall not exceed 60 days.

This clause shall not be applicable in case, where the consumer is found to have been responsible directly or indirectly in tampering with the gas meter in any way. The Company shall not be liable to pay any amount to the consumer in respect of any such adjustment which will take place by making appropriate adjustments in future or current bills of the consumer.

Also, section 10 (iii) required that in case the meter, for any reason whatsoever, ceases or omits to register regularly the volume of gas supplied, the consumer shall pay to the company for the gas supplied to him during the period the meter remained out of order or for a period of 12 months, whichever is less.

This will be done in the manner that based on the actual bill of the corresponding period of immediately preceding year; or if no such record is available, on the basis of bill for the preceding or following 2 months consumption whichever is higher.

Thirdly, section 12 (iii) required that in case meter cannot be read due to any reason, the company shall submit provisional bill based on the consumption of corresponding period of immediately preceding year and if that is not available, on seasonal average of domestic consumers, or any other reasonable basis as the company may deem fit and the consumer shall make payment against that bill within due date.

In this case, the company shall adjust the estimated consumption against actual reading in the following billing period and will bill the consumer of the difference. The consumer shall make payment against each bill within the due date.

Published in Dawn February 17th, 2017