…As Witkrans residents push for change
The Southern Diocese Roman Catholic Mission church in Witkrans has come under attack after it was found that it is overcharging Witkrans residents for electricity.
According to information shared with the publication, the church has been charging residents N$5 per unit kWh as opposed to the approved N$2.24 (current Approved Tariffs for all NamPower Distributions).
This means the church has been overcharging residents by 50 percent. According to the complainants, the church has been overcharging residents for more than a decade.
After learning of the overcharge, the residents lodged their complaint with the Elecricity Control Board (ECB) in March 2018 in which they asked the regulatory body to look into the charges and make amendments where possible.
“Not only are the actions of the Church illegal, it works against the objectives of government with the implementation of the rural electrification programme, the upliftment of the rural areas and the eradication of poverty drive. The church has agreed to have been overcharging us but the simple excuse that they did not know does not make sense at all. On top of this, no apology to the residents were rendered whatsoever,” said complainant Joseph Mahali.
The matron at the church Muriel Windswaai acknowledged the illegal charges saying this was the arranged payments she found to be existing when she joined the church leadership last year.
“Yes, we have been charging N$5 per unit since I came to Witkrans, but we have since reversed to the normal rates since we were instructed by the ECB,” said the matron who claimed they did not know the charges were irregular.
Windswaai refused to comment further on the ethics around the illegal charges saying she needed permission to talk to the media from the bishop. Calls made to Bishop Willem Christiaans were futile as his cellphone was unreachable.
A source at Nampower privy to the approved electricity tariffs said N$5 per unit is way too much for the church to charge consumers. According to him the arranged approved charges to charge people would be N$3 per unit.
“N$5 per unit is just too expensive and out of this world. This is daylight robbery and I’m sure the residents have been paying this much because they did not know. You find cases similar to this when suppliers feed on the consumers’ lack of knowledge. For sure someone has been been benefiting from this and pretending they don’t know,” said the Nampower employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
When contacted for comment, the ECB’s Economic Regulation Manager Pinehas Mutota said the board was familiar with the matter saying they have instructed the church to use the right charge sheet, which the church did only in June.
The church is allowed to charge tariffs similar to those approved for NamPower. For example, a domestic customer with a conventional single phase 60 ampere connection will be charged on a Domestic Tariff; Energy N$ 2.24/kWh and Capacity Charge of N$ 5.60 per Amp per month (N$ 336 per month).
Even though the church has reversed the per unit charge, it continues to bill every household the full capacity charge of N$33 per month on top of the N$2.24 tariff.
“Firstly, the church is not a licensed entity but they are allowed to sell electricity at the right approved rates, which is N$2.24 per unit. We told the church to look into the complaint and they did so by reversing the charges as per approved tariffs. Since the mistake has been rectified, it has now become a legal civil matter that the complainant can take up with the Police if they feel they should. From our side, we have done our job,” said Mutota.
Mutota added that this is not a case in isolation.
“There are other cases, however, the ECB can only act when someone comes forward with a complaint. Further, the ECB will be sending a team of investigators to the farm in two weeks,” he said.
Institutions overcharging consumers for electricity is not new in Namibia.
In 2006, the Ministry of Mines and Energy ordered the City of Windhoek to pay back overcharged electricity tariffs.
At the time, the ministry pronounced itself on the controversial issue of the overcharging of City of Windhoek residents on electricity tariffs between July and November that year when the Windhoek City Council had overcharged residents by half a cent per unit.