Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) has described the ongoing Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) meter migration process as chaotic and expressed dissatisfaction with how it has been implemented.
The meter migration project which rolled out some seven months ago has so far led to congestion in prepaid units vending points.
Some consumers this week told Weekend Business that they are failing to access units through banks, mobile outlets and selling points because of the migration process.
Others claimed they have been sleeping in the dark when they could afford to pay for electricity, a development the consumer rights body said is all because ‘Escom did not prepare and plan well for the project’.
But the power utility firm said through the project, Escom will maximise its revenue by replacing post-paid meters with prepaid split meters for its customers that do not fall in the maximum demand (MD) category and do not use more than 50kva.
Escom also hopes to improve revenue collection efficiency as electricity users pay upfront; hence, the power utility will eliminate bad debts from defaulters.
However, since the project rolled out in October 2015, there is congestion and poor network in most prepaid units vending points.
In an interview on Tuesday, Cama executive director John Kapito said the consumer body will call for an urgent meeting with the power utility to address the challenge.
“We at Cama have noticed and experienced the long queues and the intermittent network at the selling points for Escom pre-paid units which lead to some consumers not accessing the units at all. Why can’t they increase the points?” queried Kapito.
According to Kapito, the challenges are Escom’s creation because they needed to increase the vending points at the start of the project, if they aim at growing their revenue.
He said Malawians should expect the worst during this winter period if Escom does not rectify the anomaly.
“At the moment they have created congestion and confusion, because they knew about the project way back; this is a mockery of the reforms Escom is implementing,” said Kapito.
He said Escom should maximise the use of mobile money and banks in purchasing electricity units to ease congestion.
Speaking on condition of anonymity at one of the selling points in the city of Mzuzu, a shop keeper said they were pressured mostly because of network challenges.
“If the network was good, there would have been no congestion. Escom should improve,” said the shopkeeper.
As if rubbing salt on the wound on Wednesday this week, the utility company posted on its Facebook page, a notice to its pre-paid customers of the emergency shutdown of its pre-paid metering vending system to carry out maintenance works.
The development resulted in pre-paid customers failing to purchase electricity units using the banks and mobile networks system due to the system failure, a situation which forced the company to extend its vending points opening hours to 9PM from 4PM.
But responding to a questionnaire, Escom’s public relations officer, George Mituka on Tuesday said the company plans to distribute point of sale (POS) devices in all townships in the urban and rural areas across the country to ease congestion in the vending points.
He said it has 34 selling points countrywide with 16 in the south, 12 in the centre and six in the northern region serving about 240 000 customers with the number growing daily.
Mituka said plans are underway to have an additional 39 vending points.
“We have received complaints on the long queues especially when there are challenges with the networks but our engineers are always on alert for such eventualities,” said Mituka.
The project which started in October 2015 is scheduled for completion in December 2016 at an estimated cost of K11 Billion. Escom has since outsourced contractors in order to fast-track and enhance the implementation of the project.