The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) has ordered the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) to pay compensation to affected customers in the recent failure of the ECG prepayment vending system.
By the order, all categories of customers — residential, non-residential, commercial, and lifeline — are to be compensated in the form of one-time electricity credit within the time frame of October 1 to 7, 2022, as the PURC Act states.
The order was issued under sections 11 and 12 (1) of the PURC Act, 1997 (Act 538) and Regulations 41 and 45 of the PURC (Customer Service) Regulations, 2020 (LI2413).
A statement signed by the Executive Secretary of the commission, Dr. Ishmael Ackah, ordered that each affected customer be compensated for the loss suffered as a show of responsive customer service and in compliance with the law.
However, the ECG has appealed against the directive, with the reason that any attempt to pay compensation on such a large scale would result in the collapse of the company.
The Director of Communications of the ECG, William Boateng, reacting to the PURC order, told the Daily Graphic that the company did not have the financial wherewithal to carry through such an order.
Last week, many customers of the ECG were left stranded and compelled to sleep in the dark, as they were unable to purchase power.
That was as a result of the ECG’s system failure for its E-cash and PNS metering systems on September 27 and remained inaccessible for several days.
The affected areas were the Volta Region, Takoradi, Tema, Cape Coast, Kasoa, Winneba, Swedru, Koforidua, Nkawkaw and Tafo.
Addressing a press conference last Monday, the Managing Director of the ECG, Samuel Dubik Mahama, said the inability of some customers to load credit onto prepaid meters last week had been an IT-related challenge that was being resolved.
The PURC statement said the commission had noted a widespread failure in its prepayment meter vending systems in various locations around the country, and that in view of the extent of inconvenience occasioned by the failure with the ECG prepayment meter system, it had determined that the ECG should pay compensation to all its affected customers.
It said for residential customers, the compensation should be 10 penalty units, which is equivalent to GH¢120, while 20 penalty units, which has a cedi equivalent of GH¢240, be given to non-residential customers.
It further said commercial customers should be compensated with 40 penalty units, which is GH¢480; industrial customers should receive 100 penalty units, that is, GH¢1200, and residential (lifeline) customers should receive a compensation of GH¢16.
“The compensation shall be clearly displayed on customer receipts. The ECG shall issue widespread notifications to inform customers of the compensation due them. It shall maintain accurate records of measures taken to comply with this order, including the number of temporary staff engaged,” it said.
The regulatory body further asked the ECG to adopt immediate measures to increase staff output and responsiveness to customers, including the extension of working hours at all affected locations to 8 p.m., the engagement of temporary staff to ensure that affected customers were speedily attended to and credited with the approved compensation by October 7, 2022 and the final resolution of the vending failure as soon as possible, with minimum further inconvenience to consumers.
Difficult to determine
But Mr Boateng said apart from not having the resources to comply with the order, it was also going to be difficult to determine the number of customers who were affected.
He said there were genuine people who ran out of power but could not purchase some, while there were others who decided to avoid running out and so tried and indulged in rational buying.
Accidental, not inefficiency
The ECG Communications Director said given that it was the first time that the ECG had found itself in that situation, it expected the PURC to be more considerate, especially when it had not fully listened to the ECG’s side of the story.
He maintained that the incident was accidental and not an act of inefficiency that was being levelled against the company.
“What happened was not an act of inefficiency. This is the first time the ECG has had a total collapse of its system, and the fact that it detected it quickly to take a precautionary measure by shutting the other system to avoid a complete shutdown shows the efficiency and promptness with which issues are dealt with.
“There have been instances when other utility providers have been consistent with inconveniencing customers with interruption in their services, yet they are not asked to pay compensation. What happened to the ECG was not intentional but an accident and so why is it being penalised?
“We are asking the PURC to be considerate, especially in this dire financial situation the company faces. Any attempt to force us to comply with the order will mean a collapse of the ECG,” he emphasised.
He said already the company had appealed against the decision, with the MD, Mr Mahama, leading a delegation to meet with the PURC on the issue.
Mr Boateng said as of yesterday, all the ECG systems in the affected areas, including Kumasi, had been fully restored and were working.
He indicated that to help clear the backlog and ensure that all customers were served, the district offices in Kumasi were working extra hours, up to as late as 10 p.m., to serve all customers in queue.
He further said investigations were still ongoing to fully determine what caused the massive system failure.
The PURC Act
Act 538 Section 11 of the PURC Act (a) states, among others, that a public utility licensed or authorised under any law to provide utility service shall maintain its equipment and property used in the provision of the service in a condition that enables it to effectively provide the service.
Section 12 (1 & 2) states that where the board discovers, on its own or on a complaint, that the service provided by a public utility is not in accordance with Section 11, the commission shall, in writing, direct the provision of the adequate or reasonable service that should be provided by the public utility and may include any other directions that will secure compliance with Section 11.
A direction under Subsection (1) may include the payment of compensation by the public utility to a consumer for damage or loss suffered on account of the failure of the public utility to comply with Section 11.