No consumer protection under Electricity Act

27/02/2015 16:22

Despite electricity being an essential service, consumers in Fiji are living under an archaic system where the Fiji Electricity Authority is protected by an outdated Electricity Act. This piece of legislation has been written from the producer’s perspective which only protects the interests of FEA and not the consumers. 

In recent days, consumers particularly in the Central and Northern Division have been suffering from unscheduled power outages. Consumers who may experience damage to their electrical or electronic appliances due to sudden blackouts or power surcharges will be unable to claim compensation from the FEA. There are no laws requiring FEA to compensate consumers who suffer damage to their home electrical appliances as a result of power outages or surges. Instead, the consumers are expected to pay for the damages and costs involved in such events. FEA bears no responsibility and liability if its grid power system causes damage or losses to consumers’ electrical appliances.

As such, consumers are advised to protect their electricity appliances by purchasing power surge boards. It would be of no use to try to seek compensation even through the courts, as FEA is protected by its own legislation.

Consumers are further penalized for FEA staff negligence. The Council recently dealt with a case where a consumer who was closing one of his FEA accounts undertook due diligence by informing the Authority of his intentions. Despite writing to the FEA, seeking closure of his account and settling all outstanding bills, no action was taken by FEA. It was until later when another consumer occupied the property under which the account (and meter) was registered, that the complainant found FEA had not closed the account. The new occupant used the electricity for 6 months which was billed to the complainant. The complainant lost his security deposit and the balance was added to his residential account. He is threatened with disconnection of the power at his residence if the bill is not paid. Surely, there is a debt recovery process but FEA uses bullying tactics to recover money, especially when the legislation remains silent on these matters. This kind of behavior is synonymous with monopoly like FEA being a regulator and provider of electricity at the same time.

In another case, a residential customer was billed an exorbitant amount of $15,323.28 over a 14-month period for incorrect readings made by FEA. FEA admits the error was made by its own meter readers, as they were taking incorrect readings which resulted in incorrect calculation of the bills sent to the complainant. Where can a consumer go for an independent review when FEA is the judge and the jury? The customer is being penalized for a fault that was not of his own doing, but the result of negligent FEA staff. The customer is finding it hard to believe that the monthly electricity bill is over thousand dollars for his residential home.

The Council has persistently been calling for a review of the Electricity Act which requires inclusion of consumer protection. The Council has also been calling for an independent regulator to oversee the electricity sector. At the moment FEA is left on its own to freely dictate and establish its own system and standards of practice without regulatory oversight.