In the last piece on the Meter Asset Providers (MAPs) regulation by Nigeria News, the key points of the regulation were simplified so Nigerians could understand what is going on in the power sector with particular reference to the problem of providing prepaid meters for many unmetered Nigerians.
The main thrust of the MAPs regulations is to ensure that the billing practice known as ‘estimated billing’ is gone for good in the country. We all know how that regime of computing electricity bills has led to corruption, fraud, and inefficiency in the distribution chain.
To get a full understanding of what how MAPs works and what Nigerians should expect to get from it, simply read the piece here. A bit of knowledge of the policy would be the best grounding for what is written here.
Like all things in Nigeria, the best intentions of government or policymakers are never worth more than the paper they are written on. In other words, while the ideas are superb on paper, in practice so many hurdles are thrown at such policies to make them fail.
Sometimes, the hurdles are not intentional. More often than not though, these are deliberate moves to make sure status quo remains the same
There is no doubt that MAPs is a lofty idea. As a matter of fact, from the consumers’ point of view, it is the best thing to come out of the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) in recent years.
At least, for once, NERC is not trying to justify an increase in electricity bills in the face of glaring lack of power supply to consumers. To put it bluntly, electricity is the most obvious service Nigerians pay money for without getting any service. That sounds a lot like fraud to me.
Concerns about the MAPs policy
Cumbersome Licensing process
Reading through the process of licensing the firms, what is immediately clear is how long and tedious the process is. One gets the impression NERC is more interested in limiting the number companies willing and able to participate in the provision of meters to the public.
Interested parties not only have to wait on NERC to give them a certification of ‘No objection’, they have to sit through a bidding and qualification process with the Discos.
This is where it can get really tricky. Discos are not interested in divesting that part of their operations to third parties. They are not even interested in making sure all consumers are metered.
If they were, we would not be talking about MAPs since they would have given Nigerians the meters a long time ago.
Who is to say Discos won’t try to frustrate prospective MAPs in the bidding process? After all, it is in the best interest of the Discos not to share a part of their business with anybody.
Though the NERC insists it would monitor the bidding process to ensure it is transparent, but a determined Disco would find a loophole or even create one where there is none.
Compromised Regulatory officials
For the policy to work, officials of NERC must all be above board. On the other hand, it requires just one rogue NERC official to compromise the whole process.
It could easily come at the bidding process where the official would collude with the Disco to disqualify unwanted companies who applied.
Corrupt NERC officials could also put in a report that a particular company, after scaling the bidding process, is still not qualified because they have not met certain financial, technical and technological requirements.
In the end, we could end up with incompetent MAPs whose interests are perfectly aligned with the Discos: to fleece Nigerians of as much money as possible with providing quality service.
One permit per MAP per Disco
It is hard to understand the rationale behind restricting MAPs to just the one Disco with one permit. In effect, this is almost like killing competition as MAPs know that once they get the permit, it would be hard for a better MAP to dislodge them.
Another concern is the process of working with another Disco by an interested MAP with a permit and contract with a different Disco.
The regulation States that for a MAN to work with a different Disco, they have to go through the long process of getting a second permit?
It is likely NERC must be targeting the amount of money they would get for each license or permit applied for.
Why is it difficult to simply issue an already registered MAP with a ‘no objection’ certificate to work with a different Disco? After all, the initial process before granting the license was vigorous and exacting enough.
This provision just doesn’t make any sense at all.
The Discos were given a 120-day deadline for Discos to register and start working with MAPs.
But in Nigeria, so many things can come into play to make that deadline impossible to meet.
The question is: what is NERC going to do to any Disco that doesn’t meet that deadline?
We have seen how after flouting so many orders in the past, including several orders relating to the provision of meters, the government buys the excuses of the Discos and let them be. Who is to say it is not going to happen again.
Well, we have just 3 more months to find out.
It is a sure bet that after the expiration of the deadline, the excuses for non-compliance would be familiar to Nigerians. We would hear things like lack of funds, technical problems, and administration glitches.
Hopefully, though, the Minister of Power would not allow vested interests to sabotage this policy. Nigerian need to get beyond such mundane matters like providing meters for houses.