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ECG, GWCL face backlash at PURC hearing

BY: Della Russel Ocloo
ECG, GWCL face public backlash at public hearing

The Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) became the centre of public backlash for operational inefficiencies and allegations of over-billing at a public hearing event on tariff increases organised by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) in Accra on Monday.

Representatives of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), the University of Ghana community, Transport unions, hairdressers, dressmakers and several stakeholder groups believe the company's proposals for tariff increases were unrealistic considering the quality of service delivery to the public.

Turning the programme into a complaint forum, particularly against the ECG and Ghana Water Company Limited, representatives of the groups maintained that the players do not deserve the increments.

The forum was aimed at sensitising and soliciting inputs from the public for the major multi-year tariff review which will see the new increments run from 2022 to 2027.

Demands

The Volta River Authority’s Manager in charge of Power Economic and Regulatory, Mr Peter Osei Adjei pointed out that the 37 per cent increment being demanded is to ensure the sustainability of the company’s operations.

ECG on the other hand appealed for the 148 per cent to be granted since economic indicators such as inflation and the Ghanaian cedi’s performance against major trading currencies continue to impact their operations.

Illegal Activities

The players maintained that ECG has failed to strengthen its prosecution systems, especially on illegal connections, owing to what was alleged could be possible collusion with officials.

They also claimed that ECG has rather created a system where compliant consumers are short-changed and often billed in excess of what they consume.

The Greater Accra Regional Organiser of the National Association of Beauticians and Hairdressers, Madam Stella Adu, cited an example where she was accused of illegal connection and billed a total of GHS16,000 after she reported faults with her metering system.

She alleged that while she challenged the veracity of the claims, officials of the ECG impressed upon her to make payment for the power to be restored to her business premises.

“After I made a payment of GHC6,000 however, ECG again disconnected power to my facility claiming I made a payment of just GHC2,000 of the amount billed to me because although I had receipts from their customer service covering the transactions, the payment, they claimed did not reflect in their system,” Madam Adu alleged.

Decline Proposals

The Independent Power Producers, on the other hand, pointed out that the proposal presented by the ECG to the PURC is inconsistent with the GoG policy to have the electricity tariff lowered.

The CEO of the Chamber of Independent Power Producers, Dr Elikplim Kwabla Apetorgbor pointed out that ECG’s proposal to have a full total cost recovery meant that the already overburdened consumer is to pay for all of their cost, including inefficiencies and wastages.

“As agencies of the government and Ministry of Energy, we expect your proposal to reflect the policy focus of the government, and I strongly believe that the sustainability of Public Utilities is not about how high or low a tariff is, but about very prudent and strategic cost management practices,” Dr Apetorgbor said.

Making a strong case for the PURC to reject ECG and VRA's proposals since they are making good 'PROFIT' and writing off debts, he pointed out that the State Interest and Governance Authority (SIGA) in its recent report on public enterprises believes that the ECG, VRA and others have made profits, “although I found very difficult to comprehend till date,” he said.

Ghana Water

While participants also suggested that Ghana Water Company Limited’s (GWCL) request should not be granted for what they claimed were unsatisfactory services as well as their inability to address faults on time leading to wastage of treated water from leaking pipes, officials of GWCL say whereas they themselves were not happy about the inefficiencies in their operations, denying them the increase will hurt their operations.

Members of the public pointed out that many reported incidents of treated water going waste as a result of leakages are often left unattended to for weeks.

“I reported water leakage in my neighbourhood as a result of an illegal activity as a whistleblower, however, most community members including my household were cut off supply for months, and yet we continue to receive bills,” a Lecturer at the University of Ghana said.

Participants also expressed worry at the GWCL’s inability to issue public notices on water rationing programs to allow for people to plan.

The Deputy Managing Director of GWCL, Dr Remy Bonpira Puoru however responding to some of the issues indicated that the unsatisfactory service is a result of an increase in urban population.

“While I must admit that it is not possible for everyone to get water supply seven days in a week owing to the operational difficulties, he urged the public to agree to the increases," he said.

PURC

The Executive Director of PURC, Dr Ismael Ackah in his remarks said that the stakeholder hearings became necessary to ensure that whatever tariffs being imposed will be commensurate to the service being rendered by the providers.

The Chairman of the PURC’s Technical Committee, Mr Ishmael Ejekumhene on the other hand said that the complaints received at the forum clearly showed that a lot more ought to be done on the part of the utilities.

He urged the general public to endeavour to use the Commission’s online survey to submit inputs to inform the Commission’s decision making on the increases.