NEPRA has found in an enquiry that distribution companies, or DISCOs, have overbilled the consumers, overcharging them by as much as 100 percent. The snapshot of the meter in the bills was not useful, as the photos were often illegible, and sometimes not taken at all. This has been reported to the relevant Senate Standing Committee, whose Chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani, has demanded that affected consumers be compensated. NEPRA launched the enquiry after a huge number of consumers all over the country protested over the high bills that were being charged for August. At one level, NEPRA did not uncover anything that was not already known. However, at another, it established that the unprecedented increase in bill had not occurred either because of consumers’ profligacy, or the new burdens inflicted by the IMF, but because of overbilling by the DISCOs.
Either DISCO officials told to meet the IMF’s targets engaged in this overbilling without being told to, or there was a coordinated effort at the ministerial level. In either case, a thorough crisis is needed to fix responsibility, and one that is done, proper departmental action must be taken. The guilty must not be allowed to get away with a mere slap on the wrist as is too often the case. The scandal is enormous. Over 13 million consumers have been charged for more than 30 days of electricity. Not only will the units consumed in the last days have fallen into higher slabs, but the spectre of double-billing is raised, for the billing period does not lengthen, but remains at 30 days. Another 400,000 were sent ‘average’ bills because of defective meters.
The demands of the IMF are not properly factored in, but it does seem that corrupt elements in the DISCOs tried to meet the IMF’s targets without affecting power thieves they had already facilitated, and thus the burden was thrown onto the ordinary consumer. As the habit of meeting IMF demands has been tried in other areas, such as slapping withholding taxes, it is possible that DISCO officials were merely executing orders received from on high. Any grand panjandrums responsible must be identified and punished, and crushing a few small fry will not work this time. Important as compensation will be for consumers, perhaps more important is making sure that there must be no further repetition. KE officials claim they are working with NEPRA on this issue. Other DISCOs must follow suit.