Categorized | National News

GB Power Company Faking Light Bills – Probe Highlights Major Inconsistencies

A report released by the Grand Bahama Port Authority Limited (GBPA) has revealed that residents on that island have for years been shortchanged and overcharged for their electricity bills due to inaccurate metre readings, unreported leaks and fake electricity bills.

In response to concerns voiced by its licencees and residents faced with unusually high electricity rates in 2011, GBPA initiated a probe into the Grand Bahama Power Company’s (GBPC) metering and billing practices and found that, among other inconsistencies; billing clerks have been tampering with residents’ bills and hiking the prices.

In some instances the report noted that the billing clerks even used “judgmental determination” to compute a customers’ bill.

In fact, according to the 31-page report the investigators identified 16 deficiencies within the company’s metering and billing processes.

“We observed where the billing clerks deliberately applied an excessively high estimated consumption to a customer who had received consecutive estimated bills, in an attempt to get a customer who had not responded to multiple attempts to make contact, to come into the office,” the report read.

“A metre testing and recertification plan has not been formally developed and documented, particularly for residential metres. GBPA’s management does not maintain data on the information captured during interactions with customers, for example, relating to a customer’s complaint.”

GBPA received the final report which was prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) just over a week ago where it was noted that there are a number of inconsistencies in the processes and documentation policies of GBPC’s metering and billing practices. 

The report noted that the billing clerks were not able to retrace their steps or demonstrate how a manual estimated consumption was determined, the metre process is carried out by two billing clerks who are also responsible for carrying out the entire billing process, it also noted that GBPC billing clerks do not receive periodic refresher training on handling metre reading.

The report also noted that leaks and broken seals in many residents’ electricity supply was never reported or corrected, therefore resulting in increased bills.

Investigators also found; “a comprehensive set of policies and procedures which governs and guides the management and execution of the metre reading activities has not been formally developed and documented; personnel involved in the metre reading process are made aware of the policies and procedures in different ways, some of which are informal; we observed inconsistencies in the recording of metre reading anomalies…in some instances metre reading handhelds were used, while in others a manual note was made.

“GBPC management does not perform reconciliations between the billing system and the metre reading system to verify the completeness and accuracy of the transfers; a comprehensive set of IT policies and procedures have not been formally developed to govern the IT function and processes; security controls for the metre reading application were not in line with international best practice standards.”

The report also noted in its findings that the company’s new metres are generally processed and stocked in the same area with the old metres in the warehouse, GBPC has not developed a metre testing plan or strategy for residential metres and that the testing of all metres is done by a single employee.

Inconsistencies were also found as it relates to the replacement, testing and certification of metres over its lifespan.

PwC recommended, among other things, that, “GBPC’s management should develop and formally document a comprehensive set of metre reading policies and procedures, a process should be developed and formalized for the performance of verification checks to ensure that data transfers between the billing system, metre reading system and handheld devices are complete and accurate.”

The report recommends that GBPA’s management review and revisit the current metre reading field procedures to ensure that they are clearly defined and understood by all involved, update the company’s IT system, implement mechanisms to capture, log and maintain customer complaints and remind billing clerks to verify the calculation of each customers’ bill before printing them.

However, Minister of Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville said he had not seen the report up to press time but noted that the government is also looking to conduct its own audit into those high electricity bills of Grand Bahama residents.

“We’re trying to get the information as it pertains to the regulator and to have it assessed by some independent people ourselves,” he said. “It’s easy to go out there and say this and say that and we don’t necessarily have the proof that this is the argument.

“Right now we have requested the information from the regulators and after getting information from the regulators and we’re actually looking at it to see if there is any violation to discuss. It’s easy to make accusations without facts, and until such time as the government has the facts and information to substantiate that customers have been overcharged it’s going to be difficult for us to act.”

Dr. Darville said this report will have to be reviewed by government auditors to determine its legitimacy before acting.
“If it is true then they are in violations that need to be sorted out and if it isn’t true then you go and put your foot in your mouth. Hypothetically if it is true as a result of overcharging and if the overcharging was intentional then that’s a violation, if it was unintentional and an oversight then an investigation have to take place then the finding would result in compensation to those who were overcharged.”

Dr. Darville said once the government has reviewed the report, then an official statement would be released.

The cost of electricity generation remains a challenge for The Bahamas and entire Caribbean region.

And according to GBPA, Grand Bahama is no different.

“For example, 2011/2012 averages reflect that Jamaica pays $0.40/(kilowatt hour) kwh, Bermuda pays $0.599kwh, and in Cayman the rate runs about $0.346/kwh,” it read. “Grand Bahama now boasts a brand new 52MW $80 million generation plant, whose positive impact should be increasingly evident as the new plant becomes fully operational.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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