Some landlords in coastal communities in the Ada area in the Greater Accra Region say, for the past seven years, they have not paid for the electricity they consume because the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) has failed to bill them.
The residents say they have brought the issue to the attention of the ECG, but the problem remains unresolved, resulting in their free consumption of power.
Joseph Ocansey, the owner of a compound house in Sege, said, the family house had been running on free electricity since 2016 because ECG did not seem interested in billing them.
“When we recently confronted one of the ECG staff about it, he said our meter is a party meter and so it is yet to be captured into the system,” he told The Fourth Estate.
By “party meter”, Ocansey was referring to meters procured by political figures as part of a rural electrification project that was intended to expand access to electricity in Ghana. It is known as the Self-Help Electrification Programme. Ocansey’s case is not an isolated one in the Ada Foah-Sege area.
Julius Odoi, a landlord with three tenants and chief executive of a non-governmental organisation, said his property and his office, located about three kilometres apart, had not been billed since August 2022.
In both households, electricity units consumed are measured by Self-Help Electrification Programme (SHEP) meters.
According to Odoi, he had visited the ECG Office in Ada multiple times in an attempt to pay his electricity bills but was informed that the SHEP meters had not yet been registered in the ECG database. This means that until ECG adds the meters to its system, he will not receive any bills.
“I’ve been told that the meters were self-help meters and [that] the government contracted a company to install them. The contractor [therefore] needs to provide [ECG] with information for them to begin billing,” Odoi said.
Mr. Odoi said his fruitless attempts to have the meters billed have left him frustrated because of the potential consequences if his tenants eventually move out. He said this may leave him with months of unpaid bills, should ECG decide to charge retrospectively.
The Fourth Estate’s sources in the area estimate that thousands of residents consume power without paying because of the problem with billing the SHEP meters. Some of them use high-power-consuming gadgets. Three apartments in Kasseh owned by a source who requested not to be named rely on a SHEP meter installed for a water pumping machine. Since the meter was installed in August 2021, it has not received a single bill from ECG. This source also owns an eleven-room house with seven meters acquired under SHEP. None of these meters have been billed since they were installed nearly two years ago.
For fear of victimisation, most of the residents whose meters have not been captured in ECG’s billing system for years declined to speak to The Fourth Estate. However, in the Ada West District, two anonymous sources in Amlakpo and Sege told The Fourth Estate that their meters had not been billed for ten and three years respectively.
Self-Help Electrification Programme
Ghana’s National Electrification Scheme was established with soft loans from the country’s development partners to increase electricity access across the country for economic growth and development. According to the government, the programme has contributed to improving Ghana’s electricity access rate from about 23% in 1990 to 85.17% in 2021.
According to a 2021 report by the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), the abuse of the SHEP through political interference has led to huge commercial losses for power distributors in the country, the ECG, and the Northern Electricity Distribution Company Limited (NEDCo).
The report, titled “The Prevalence of Illegal Meters in The National Grid System”, indicated that the losses resulting from the consumption of energy through SHEP meters not captured in the national grid system.
The report noted that “the implication of these meters’ existence is the significant financial losses to the power distributors. Distribution losses are estimated to cost about GH¢1.3billion annually, with an average cost of about GHp 15/kWh to the consumer.”
Beyond SHEP metres
It is not only meters installed under SHEP that are not being billed in Ada.
Francis Kwabla Klokoto’s financial company, Jehovah El Shaddai Susu Services in Kasseh, was not billed for electricity for more than three months.
“In my office, it happened, so I forced them to go and print it [electricity bill] and bring it because I know if they are not bringing the bill, anytime they will bring the bill, they will come and disconnect it. So, I forced the ECG office to print my bill for me,” Mr. Klokoto said.
He said after receiving his bill upon his insistence, subsequent bills were not sent frequently.
An ECG contractor who spoke with The Fourth Estate on condition of anonymity confirmed these anomalies. He said ECG contracts his company to install meters, work on electricity poles and undertake other engineering works in Ada and its environs.
“I have a customer. For him, he got his meter from the main office. It’s not a SHEP meter. I’m the one who fixed his meter for him because that is what my company does. When we fix the meter, the next month you are supposed to get a bill. But as I’m talking to you now, a year has passed, and the man is yet to be billed,” the source said.
He added: “The landlords and ladies are crying that there are people in their houses and they are not getting bills to pay and very soon those people will leave. So, when they vacate the rooms, who is going to pay for that bill?”
The non-billing of willing electricity consumers exists at a time the ECG is cutting off power to electricity consumers who owe the company.
In March this year, the ECG embarked on a nationwide revenue mobilisation exercise to recover about GHS5.7 billion debt owed by its customers. The ECG said it recovered GHS3.1 billion after the initial month-long exercise. On May 29, the company began the second phase of the exercise meant to tame its revenue losses.
The Tema Public Relations Officer of the ECG, Ms. Sakyiwaa Mensah, said the company was aware that many meters in Ada had not been billed for years. However, she said the situation was not peculiar to Ada. She said the problem of unbilled meters across the country existed because the ECG did not know of the distribution of the meters.
“Now, the reason why we have this situation is that, for some time, initially, the meters were not passing through ECG. They were given to the beneficiaries of the Self-Help Electrification Programme on the field.”
She said that ECG must ensure that these meters were added to its system so that they could be billed. However, she said the process to regularise the meters was often delayed because it took “quite some time” for the ECG to locate them.
She added that the meters had the ability to accurately determine the quantity of energy customers have used regardless of the number of years they had not been billed. And as a result, the initial bill such meters receive would “definitely be high.”
However, ACEP revealed in its report that the LCD displays of more than 70% of these meters were not functioning. As such, the consumption data could not be retrieved. This, according to the report, would make it practically impossible for any of the power distributors to estimate how much power was consumed for retrospective billing even if the meters were located.
Ms. Sakyiwaa told The Fourth Estate that regardless of ECG’s efforts to capture these meters, the company could not determine when all the unbilled meters would be found and regularised.
“We can’t say we have done it to 50% or 90% or 100%, because we can’t tell the number that is on the field,” she said.
The Ministry of Energy, she says, has agreed to let the electricity distributing companies (ECG and NEDCo) handle the distribution of meters under SHEP to prevent this situation from continuing.
The CEO of the Consumer Protection Agency, Owusu Hene, said retrospective billing of power users created problems, especially when the long period of non-payment for electricity usage was not their fault.
“It is not fair that you don’t show me the bill and then suddenly, you bring me a huge bill to pay. How do you expect the person to pay?” he said.