At the forth consumer parliament recently held in Banjul, more than 90 per cent of the questions were directed to the National Water and Electricity Company Limited and most of the questions were based on the frequent un-notified electricity outage in the country.
NAWEC staff present at the forum were under fire as questions came from different corners of the hall as soon as the moderator of the event, Peter Gomez, declared the floor opened for questions to the services providers.
The consumer parliament was organized by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to bring consumers of communications, electricity, water and sewerage services face-to-face with the operators to express their views, concerns and complaints to them. The forum, held in Banjul, was the fourth of its kind.
The issue of NAWEC has been a pain in the neck of many Gambians, both corporate and ordinary people as the frequent un-notified power outage in the country has left a bad taste in the mouth of many people.
“At this moment, we continually encounter power outage,” said Assan Cham who was the first to expressed his concerned at the forum. “The number of times we don’t have electricity is far more than the times we have. If the power should go off, the media is here, NAWEC should inform the people that at this particular day and time there will be no electricity so that people can know the time when there will be no electricity.”
The erratic power supply of NAWEC continues to cause serious havoc on people’s valuable electrical appliances and means of survival.
Expensive appliances such as refrigerators, TV, computers, DVDs and even manufacturing machinery and office equipment have mostly been damaged by frequent un-notified power cut taking place across the country; especially in the Greater Banjul Area.
Many ordinary Gambians, entrepreneurs and managing directors have been seriously affected by this unfortunate state of affairs.
Mr Cham continues: “Most of the people in Banjul are not well-off, so often times when people go to the market they buy commodities like fish in bulk when prices are cheaper and then store it in their refrigerator so that when the prices are high or there is short supply they can always refer on to the one they stored. In this case when there is not electricity all that they stored in the fridge will spoil. This can be avoided when NAWEC use to inform people as to when there will be electricity so that people can plan their activities.”
In response, Baba Fatajo, the Director of the Power Stations, said the wish of NAWEC is to provide electricity 24/7 (24 hours a day and 7 days a week, that is literally to have electricity everyday every time) “that is what is good for us”.
“Some of us work up to 3 - 4 AM and when we go home we found that there is no electricity in our area,” he claimed.
He said NAWEC have three power stations and one of that is owned by an independent power producer. He explained that NAWEC had problems these days because two of the generators at Kotu, which is the main power station, are having problem and that was not expected.
“So we have to identify the problem, take the specification of the affected parts and order it from broad; thank God now work is in progress and any moment we can have normal electricity supply,” said Mr Fatajo.
On Mr. Cham concerned of the un-notified power cut, Demba Tune also a staff of NAWEC, said if it is planned maintenance, then NAWEC can informed people about it, but when the machine goes off automatically, for one reason or the other, then there is no way people can be informed prior to that because it is an unexpected happening.
A woman believes to be in her late thirties, who did not identify herself, said: My observation is that all these days electricity goes on and off but it does not make any difference when the bill comes. It used to be the same as a month that we have normal electricity supply.”
However, Mr Fatajo vehemently denied the point raised by the woman saying “that is not possible.” Mr Fatajo’s colleague, Demba Tune, explained: “We use to make sure that when there is no enough electricity supply in any month it reflects on the bill, however, what some people do not understand is that the bill for this month will come a month or two after and it will definitely reflect the low electricity supply.”
One Alagie Mbye, a resident of Banjul, blasted the NAWEC personnel for what he called their “poor service delivery habit”.
“NAWEC delivery personnel [technicians] should change their habit. Most of the time you call NAWEC [offices] their officials will say they don’t have vehicle and that we should rent a vehicle for them even when we are calling them for official work, which they are paid by NAWEC.
“There was time when there was fire outbreak at some high tension pole at my area in Banjul and we called NAWEC, the person we spoke to said we should rent a car for him that will take him because all their vehicles are out.”
“How can that be possible when NAWEC is having a fleet of vehicle,” he asked rhetorically.
Mr Mbye said NAWEC personnel should change their service delivery habit and know the services they are giving is not a privilege; “that is what they are paid for”.
However many people at the forum complaint that the when they have arrears of electricity NAWEC cuts both their electricity and water supply, at this point PURA intervened and clarified that NAWEC have no authority to cut off anybody’s water supply when the person have arrears for electricity.
“It is not done they have no power to do that. Water and electricity are separate services, if NAWEC is doing that then they are doing a wrong thing. If you have such a difficulty call PURA on 148 so that we can sort it out for you,” the regulatory authority said.
NAWEC officials said they do that because they realized that when people have electricity arrears; when you cut off the electricity alone they don’t pay quickly, but you cut both the electricity and water supply then they pay quickly.
Even with their excuse, PURA maintained that water and electricity are separate services, so one cannot have electricity arrears and you cut both the electricity and water supply.
However, the consumer parliament ends abruptly due to power outage.