Consumers suffer as FEA’s power goes unchecked

06/09/2011 14:29

CONSUMERS in Fiji are suffering from the unchecked powers of the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) as the electricity provider is also the regulator.

Complaints from FEA customers lodged at the Consumer Council face are virtually powerless as the authority is being protected by the archaic Electricity Act (Cap 180) and its regulations which give it wide-ranging powers relating to its dealings with consumers.

In a recent case, the FEA simply apologised for its oversight whereby the complainant’s bill had stated a “Normal Reading”, but in actual fact it was an “Estimated Reading”. The complainant’s billed about 2400% more than his monthly consumption and for a month when there were power cuts due to flood in his area. Instead of taken responsibility for its mistake, FEA simply went ahead to demand the bill and also disconnect the customer’s power supply. Even though FEA was at fault, the customer has had to suffer from no power supply. FEA took the action citing its powers to do so under the law.

The authority appears to have developed a ‘pay first and dispute late’ approach when it comes to disputes over billing. Even under a system of Estimated Reading, FEA has the audacity to claim that its billing is accurate and objective. If FEA was a responsible business it would at least allow consumers’ disputes be thoroughly examined without resorting to immediate disconnections.

FEA’s actions in disregarding the rights of consumers stems from the fact that it has monopoly control of electricity supply and is sheltered by the Electricity Act and its own regulations. Consumers are not given a fair go under this system and FEA appears to be taking advantage of this by irresponsibly disconnecting power despite customers disputing the accuracy of their bills.

The rules under which FEA operate is anti-consumer and gives the authority a free-hand to exploit helpless consumers who depend on electricity.