Dubious SEC billing


Al-Watan newspaper

THE Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) issued a statement last week explaining the reasons behind the increase in electricity bills. It attributed the increase to new tariffs based on different segments of consumers in the housing sector and the rise in consumption as a result of heavy use of air-conditioners in summer.

In an official statement, the Saudi Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority has confirmed that the SEC’s billing system was faultless. It made the comment while responding to complaints and grievances expressed by citizens.

A previous statement issued by the company on bills emphasized that its billing system was accurate and up-to-date. But the company and the regulatory authority did not answer the actual question of consumers about the unusual increase in power consumption.

Some consumers who were away from their homes for weeks have received huge bills.

The new tariff was implemented in the beginning of this year but the bills have gone up multiple times. The authority did not explain how the billing system was accurate as it issued its statement within 24 hours after receiving complaints from consumers.

It was impossible for the authority to verify the bills of 9 million subscribers within 24 hours. The bills were issued over a period of one month. Did the authority check only samples from the bills or did they send field inspectors to check the meters?

This issue is actually linked to the company’s performance.

The billing system is related to the company’s revenue and based on the revenue its profits would be calculated and the profits would speak about the efficiency and performance of its officials. This will lead to the danger of profit management inside the company.

One may point out that there are auditors to check the company’s financial statement and they would make sure the company’s actual profits and losses as well as its foolproof billing system. My answer is that even after auditing there will be loopholes in internal monitoring.

The auditors will consider only the bills issued by the company to calculate the revenue. They will not check the accuracy of amounts mentioned in the bills. The board of directors will protect auditors from taking responsibility for their statement.

In order to calculate the bill amount, the company adopts the following method: the volume of consumption for the category divided by 30 days and the actual number of days from the last reading till the current reading. If the volume of consumption is 6,000 units it will be multiplied by 18 halalas and if the volume is more than 6,000 units it will be multiplied by 30 halalas.

Actually, this method will work if the actual use of electricity is calculated for 30 days. But in the case of bills issued last month it was calculated for different days including 25, 27 and 38 days. For example, if the volume of consumption is 5,700 units for 25 days the bill will be SR1,110 without tax, i.e. 5,000 x 0.18 = SR900 + 700 x 0.30 halalas = SR210 = SR1,110.

On the other hand, if the days of use is 30 or more it should be multiplied by 0.18 only and the bill should be SR1,026 without taxes, which is a difference of SR84. Why is this difference in the number of days while calculating the tariff and where is justice in determining the categories.

This emphasizes that the SEC should have a professional method to audit its billing system. In addition to that the company’s meters face technical problems and consumers have to pay a specific amount every month for meter reading. What is the benefit that the consumers get from this payment?

We should know that most electricity meters are old and they are not properly maintained despite the monthly payment of the meter fee. If the temperature goes up above 50 degree Celsius it would affect the meter reading and show an increase in consumption. Bills will go up as a result of a lack of meter maintenance by the company.

In light of the above discussion it goes without saying that the General Auditing Bureau should keep a watch on SEC’s billing system, taking into account the complaints of consumers. There is a special section at the bureau to monitor financial discrepancies and performance of companies. We expect the bureau to investigate the company’s performance and present its report to the public.