‘The overbilling was aimed at receiving more performance bonuses, with some claiming that power companies overcharge to balance out their income and expenditure’
Amid much hue and cry over the ghost bills charged by almost all electricity distribution companies, a question arises – whether the DPDC had deliberately manipulated the bills?
A higher up at the Dhaka Power Distribution Company Limited (DPDC) had reportedly ordered to overbill consumers by up to 61%, across the areas covered by the utility company, reads an email he sent to 36 executive engineers of as many Network Operation and Customer Services (NOCS) offices.
Several media outlets obtained a copy of the email issued on April 8.
The executive engineers attested to the development in their reply to show-cause notices served by the DPDC on July 4 over the inflated bills.
Prior to that, the Power Division formed a taskforce asking all power distribution companies to find those responsible in late June, after the government took the complaints of inflated bills from March to May seriously.
As a part of the move, all the distribution entities formed a probe committee each, causing DPDC to serve show-cause notices to the executive engineers alongside suspending four officials, including an executive engineer.
DPDC ICT and Procurement General Manager SM Shahidul Islam reportedly shot the email, according to the executive engineers. He, however, could not be reached over the phone for comments.
DPDC Managing Director Bikash Dewan, too, was unavailable on phone for his comments, despite repeated calls made by this correspondent on Tuesday.
However, Power Division Secretary Md Sultan Ahmed, when contacted, said a three-member committee headed by an additional secretary was looking into the matter.
“They are supposed to submit their report soon, possibly by this week,” said Sultan, also the chairman of DPDC, without making a comment whether it was ethical for the high official to make such a controversial order.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (Berc) member (electricity) Md Bazlur Rahman said they were awaiting the probe report for the next course of action.
Replying to a question regarding the ethical ground of deliberately overbilling, he said: “I’m not yet sure under which circumstances the accused DPDC official did so [overbill consumers]. The probe report will clarify all the confusions.”
A Berc team has already visited the DPDC headquarters over the allegation, he concluded.
Many power sector officials — both present and former — hinted that the overbilling was aimed at receiving more performance bonuses, with some claiming that power companies overcharge over the last few months of every fiscal year, to balance out their income and expenditure.
Dhaka Electricity Supply Company Limited Managing Director Kausar Ameer Ali recently told Dhaka Tribune that such overbilling was a common practice in the past, arguing it was the not same case in the recent ghost billing scam.
Many power sector insiders also attribute the inflated bills in an effort to show a decline in the system loss.
Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh Energy Adviser M Shamsul Alam termed the allegation a serious violation of the law.
“Metre readers could not prepare bills physically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering the fact, DPDC decided to estimate bills of February, March, and April, compared to that charged over the same period last year,” he said.
But breaching its own plan, DPDC ordered overbilling whimsically, which is not only illegal, but also a sheer injustice, he remarked.
He also stated: “The Berc is there to decide how to charge consumers and why. And in doing so, the energy regulator holds public hearing. But charging even a single penny beyond the process is simply illegal.”