April 10, 2008

Electric Hell

Not a day goes by when we don’t have to deal with issues that are just not issues in the US. Between the tax guys, the water guys, the Internet guys, and the electric guys, you need a whole team of administrative folks just to spend time dealing with them.

Electricity is very erratic; blackouts and brownouts are common. We estimate our direct losses due to power surges at over $30,000. This is mostly computer equipment but also air conditioners that were damaged or destroyed after frequent power surges

In any case, it is not bad enough that we lose money to their power surges or from days of going without power or the cost of buying and maintaining a generator, the day-to-day service is even worse and the cost is excessive, not to say abusive.

Our average electric bill is roughly $1,200 a month. This is for about 4,000 kwh. Of that, about $245 is fixed. This means that if we use absolutely no power, we still have to pay for the meter rental (about $5 a month) and a “fixed premium” ($240 a month) which no one will explain to us. The bills are payable within 10 days. Cash or certified check. There is no late notice. They just disconnect your service. The problem is that the date on the bill is usually a week or more before you actually get the bill (they are hand delivered and not mailed) so in fact, you have a day or 2 to pay your bill before facing disconnection. And despite their inefficiencies in providing poor service all around, they are extremely effective is sending out teams of disconnection agents who go as far as removing the meter.

In March, we received a bill that was much higher than average. It was about $1700. It was dated on the 2nd but we received it on the 10th. On the 12th, we wrote to the electric company asking for an explanation for the excessive bill, an explanation for the so-called “fixed premium” and for additional time to pay. They refused to take the letter. Simply refused. After spending hour after hour, day after day at the neighborhood branch trying to meet with the branch manager or getting a letter delivered, we finally gave up and tried to pay the bill. We couldn’t. Our account had been cancelled. No reason. No explanation. A couple days later, technicians from the electric company came with a note from the branch manager requiring we prove that we had a legal connection. They wanted to remove the meter since we had “no account”. We gave them all the required documents and they eventually left.

Still unable to meet with the branch manager and unable to have any letter accepted by the receptionist, we took a bailiff with us to the branch. We were allowed in and were able to meet with the branch manager. After a long discussion that was going nowhere, we still did not know why or when they cancelled the account. The branch manager asked us to fill out an application for a new account and pay the required fee, almost $900 to get the same subscription load we have now.

So let me get this straight. You cancel my account for absolutely no reason and for me to get another account I have to REAPPLY and PAY AGAIN!!!! I was trying my best not to reach over his desk and slam his face into his PC. The colleague I was with stayed calm and the bailiff was just shaking his head in disbelief. Seeing our “reluctance” the branch manager went so far as to suggest we could hand write the application not to waste any time.

We asked that they give us a written explanation for the cancellation of our account as well as putting in writing that we needed to sign up for and pay for a new account.. We told them that we would have to justify to our “management” why we needed a new subscription when we had already paid for one in the past. He refused saying the receipt for the new connection fee would be the only thing we would have and that we could send that receipt to our management if they wanted. In the meantime, his agents were coming around to our office to remove our meter since we are using it illegally. Fortunately, we locked the main access to the building and have refused to let them in. They can disconnect us from the pole but it is more complicated and it will take them a few days.

After leaving the branch yesterday, we wrote a letter to the branch manager and had it delivered by our bailiff this morning. Our bailiff spent over and hour and a half listening to the branch manager’s explanations. He came back saying that the branch manager told him that he had received instructions from his head office to cancel our service and that since it was cancelled, the only solution was to reapply and pay again. He “generously” offered to give us some time to pay for the connection fee as long as we reapplied now. Of course, this was unacceptable to us. We managed to get the branch manager on the phone and we asked him for the contact at his head office we could get the explanation from. He completely changed his story and now claimed that the head office had nothing to do with it.

Since our last letter was delivered by bailiff, they will have to answer. In the meantime, we are illegally using electric power which we paid over $2,400 at the time to get installed and we could lose power at any moment.

This place is truly hell.


  1. It's so nice blog with informative world development. I like to read more, keep on updating.

  2. This is preposterous!

    I know it's easy for me to say, behind my computer desk in my parents' basement, still an undergraduate student, yet to meet the real world-ok, I have to end the self-deprecation here-but dammit! Screw these Electricity companies...How much does it really cost to get solar panels!? I don't think any one intending to seriously run a business in Africa should depend on the local electric companies. I think it's better to wait for Research to generate a more efficient way of getting energy from the sun (if solar panels are too expensive), than to continue to depend on these idiots.

    P.s.: Love the blog! I'm so proud of you.

  3. Jeez, keep posting, as a business student considering some entrepreneur venture in Africa, this is damn interesting!

  4. Hey I like your blog, would you be interested in blogging for the African Messenger (www.theafricanmessenger.org)? let me know (info@theafricanmessenger.org). Thanks

  5. There is this new television series called The Generations Project. Tonight they are showing an episode about an African American man who is an entrepreneur who learns about his great grandfather who was also an entrepreneur, in a very challenging time for African Americans. It looks like a really cool story. I just thought you might be interested.

    You can watch in online http://www.byu.tv/ or on BYU Television
    It airs at 8pm Mtn Time.

    Here's the show's website. http://www.byub.org/thegenerationsproject/

  6. Again, great stuff. Well, obviously not in terms of a hassle-free existence for your company, but still...


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