FEA self regulation troubling consumers

30/10/2008 12:15

Consumers in Fiji are sick and tired of the Fiji Electricity Authority’s (FEA) uncaring and unresponsive approach including the Authority’s poor delivery of customer care services. The Consumer Council of Fiji relates FEA’s sheer ignorance and negligence of its customers’ grievances as an attitude that is typical of a self regulatory organization.

The Authority has for much too long been the judge and the jury of its services to Fiji consumers. The Council perceives this dual role to be hindering the provision of efficient services that meets consumer expectations and quality customer care to consumers in the country. No longer are consumers going to put up with such behavior from FEA because consumers are now demanding for the removal of the self regulation by FEA.

To highlight the level of consumer ignorance and ‘harrassment’ by FEA, the Council presents the exemplary case of Mr Mick Beddoes. Mr Beddoes lodged his distress with the Council on 27th October, 2008 following his failure to reason a disputed bill with FEA. The nature of his complaint has to do with FEA’s incompetence and poor record keeping which caused unnecessary anguish to him and his family over a bill which he was not responsible for. According to Mr Beddoes he had notified FEA to discharge his account when he relocated in 2000. A copy of the bill obtained from FEA shows the name of the second occupier of that premises along with Mr. Beddoes name which proves poor record keeping by FEA. FEA found it easy to lump this account to Mr Beddoes current residential bill and demand full payment or threaten with power disconnection on the eve of Diwali celebrations whereby the following day was a public holiday. FEA also failed to disclose under which provision in the Act can FEA lump the two bills.

Furthermore, in the course of the Council’s investigation, we established the occupier of that premises who is fully known to FEA because he has been disputing his bill to date and has therefore not paid. Hence, there exists now a huge bill for someone to settle and FEA took an easy option to lump it into Mr Beddoes current account and seek him to settle the amount with threats of disconnection to his power supply.  An unexplained and ruthless behaviour has been the only response forthcoming from FEA towards Mr Beddoes. FEA has the option to approach the courts with the disputed bills but has instead acted ruthlessly to threaten Mr Beddoes with meter disconnection.

Why did FEA allow a residential customer to accumulate a bill up to 90 days? We have seen inconsistent behaviour from FEA which consumers cannot forget. Just recently FEA went disconnecting FEA metre and charging a reconnection fee of $5.00 without giving these customers a bill in the first instance. It seems FEA is hell bent on accumulating profits through unethical means.

Mr Beddoes case is not an isolated one and instead is the sad picture of many other consumers who have become the unfortunate victims of FEA’s self regulation. Consumers suffer unexplained and non-communicated power disruptions, loss of electrical appliances resulting from power surges, delay in receipt of bills, incorrect billing calculations, unfair disconnection, unfair charge of reconnection fees, and poor customer care services. However, FEA fails to acknowledge the consumer grievances that arise from the faults, oversight and negligence of FEA.

Consumers have had enough. It is now time to review the Fiji Electricity Authority Act and the powers of FEA therein that presently shields FEA from being held accountable or responsible for its mistakes must be removed.

Meanwhile consumers are advised to thoroughly understand their FEA bills and recheck the calculations contained. A brochure to help consumers know their electricity bills better will soon be disseminated by the Council to consumers in their upcoming bill.