News / Africa

DRC Electricity Customers Question Bills

x
TEXT SIZE - +
Nick Long
— Getting electricity is becoming easier across most of Africa, but not in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  A recent World Bank study found that people in Congo spend more of their income to get reliable electricity for business purposes than anywhere else in the world. Since that study was published, some Congolese have been questioning their electricity bills.

In response to questions about its billing system, the national electricity company or Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL), has said that it intends to install more prepaid electricity meters across the capital Kinshasa - so that less power is wasted and people pay for what they use.

Currently most of SNEL’s customers pay on a flat rate system, which the company says is losing it money.

People in Goma that VOA spoke to said they hoped SNEL is serious about installing meters. They have noticed that in neighboring Rwanda, where all the national power company’s customers have meters, they appear to get much better value for money.

Congolese electrician Samson Ndako has spent a lot of time in Rwanda. He says the electricity supply is regular in Rwanda.   He says they do not often have power outages, and when they do, they announce it on the radio - they tell customers when it’s going to happen and after one or two hours the power is restored.

Ndako says he has found that when he is living in Rwanda, a dollar’s worth of pre-paid electricity units lasts him from a week to 10 days.

But in Goma, living in the same kind of apartment and using the same appliances - a radio, TV, CD player and laptop - he says he is paying a lot more for less power.

He says in his neighborhood, they pay a flat rate.  He pays $10 or $11 a month, and he does not get regular electricity. It is on for about two hours a day.  And, those hours are not at regular times.  He says sometimes they send him power during the night, from 10 or 11 pm to 4 or 5 am, but he says he does not need electricity at that time because he is in bed.

There is a local association in Ndako’s neighborhood which paid for a SNEL line to be installed and tries to represent customers’ interests.  The head of this association,  Ismail Bikelenge, says people in the electricity company are profiting from its current billing system.

He says SNEL is billing people for electricity they never used, whereas in well governed countries customers only pay for what they use and they can keep track of that with a meter.

SNEL’s management in Goma declined to be interviewed but a SNEL employee agreed to talk to VOA on condition that his name was withheld. He says the current billing system is largely guesswork.

He says the company’s employees visit a house and they see a TV, a radio and other appliances and they imagine how much power the household uses.  He says it is an imaginary bill, so to speak..

He says SNEL pays employees only $80 a month, out of which they may have feed and pay school fees for five to eight children, so there is a limit to how well they work.

As for the possibility of installing meters, he said that SNEL’s management in Goma had asked the head office in Kinshasa to send them meters.

He says they had asked but the request had been shelved, without a response. He thought there was a lack of will. He says that, even if today the management decided that the electricity bills had to be reduced, who would accept that, because everyone in the Congo has to look out for their children’s and their families’ interests first?

Installing meters does impose extra costs for the customers. In Rwanda, it costs the equivalent of $100 to install an electricity meter, plus nearly a dollar a month in insurance costs in case the meter breaks down. And, those are costs that every customer has to pay, so some poor people have been excluded.

Nevertheless, access to the national grid in Rwanda has more than doubled since 2009 and is now at around 15 percent, compared with Congo where it is still only around seven percent and the outages are getting worse.

Samson Ndako said that in the Congo SNEL has been selling its meters to customers for about $120.

But then they ask for extra costs on top of that, he says. They will say 'you have to buy this and that' and although your house has been properly wired, they will say 'it has not been wired properly, we’ll have to redo it.' And, when the customer refuses and says he would rather pay the flat rate.

SNEL’s official explanation for the outages in Goma is that the hydroelectric dam at Ruzizi, which supplies the city, has insufficient capacity. The SNEL employee that VOA interviewed said the real problems are poor maintenance of the transmission network, illegal connections and inefficient distribution, which more use of meters could help remedy.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid