As the Senate Committee on Privatization and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) crisscross the power sector to assess the industry and get acquainted with its numerous problems, the Management of Benin Electricity Distribution Plc. (BEDC) has been commended for being innovative and well-run in spite of industry challenges.
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Ben Murray Bruce gave the commendation when he led members of the committee and a team from the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) on a fact-finding visit to BEDC last Thursday.
Senator Bruce who acknowledged the myriad of challenges facing the power sector observed that BEDC under the leadership of Mrs. Funke Osibodu, BEDC had done well since it came on board especially in the areas of community relations, payment platforms and customer services.
“We have seen the excitement of staff at the training programmes of BEDC, an enabling environment and air of camaraderie among management staff, which we have not seen in other places, which goes to show that the company is well-run, and we had expected no less a good environment given the pedigree and antecedents of your CEO”, Senator Bruce remarked.
“During our visits so far we have seen privatized companies that are well-run, some average, while some are badly run, but with what we’ve seen so far about BEDC I congratulate your management for being one of the well-run companies” he said.
The Chairman Senate Committee said he was familiar with some of the problems of the industry but pointed out that he was surprised about how the industry was being owed about N900billion even when power generation was very low, saying that he was also in the know that federal government was yet to fully honour its obligations to Discos and that they could not collect tariff at prevailing market rate due to high foreign exchange rate and the recession, but was more interested in what could be done to solve the problems.
The Senate Committee Chairman said he was not in favour of outright cancellation of power sector privatization but was interested in assessing how it has fared as a tool of government either in terms of failure or success in its entirety.
“We are not in favour of cancelling the process. If a bad deal was done in some areas let us fix it and move on. The committee’s intention is to look at how to fix problems of privatization. In other words, what can be done to solve the problems “he asserted.
According to him, the Committee will soon organize a Public Hearing at the National assembly featuring Distribution Companies (Discos), their regulators, customers, and other arms of the value chain to review the privatization process of the power sector with a view to fixing emerging problems and make the exercise work better in the interest of all Nigerians.
He explained that some of the problems confronting Discos were unforeseen saying” nobody knew there was going to be economic recession, or forex devaluation of this magnitude, stressing that the committee’s intention of embarking on the fact finding tour was to assess how far the process was performing.
Earlier, Managing Director/Chief Executive of BEDC, Mrs. Funke Osibodu had enumerated series of challenges confronting Discos, stressing the need for the committee to impress it on federal government to dollarize the Naira price for gas; the raw material for electricity production for the power sector and also subsidize tariff for lower class residential customers in like manner the Indian government did for its electricity companies.
Mrs. Osibodu equally told the Committee that it was important federal government treated existing shortfall in the industry revenue basket as Regulatory Asset Bond (RAB) backed by legislative cover and recognized by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
She equally emphasized the need for the Senate to ensure criminalization of energy theft and fast tracking of the prosecution of offenders, adding ” more importantly outstanding Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) debts should be paid with legislative and government full backing authorizing disconnection of non-paying MDAs without fear of repercussion of arrest or victimization.”
She affirmed that Discos lose 50% of their monthly bill to non-payment by customers, adding that no enough power was generated, in addition to system instability, saying that this informed BEDC’s decision to implement regimented load shedding to enable customers plan their activities along power availability schedule, adding “there is need for correct messaging aligned with assisting the power sector.”