Internet services providers, Unique Solutions and Netpage will be fined for “failing to show up” at an October 1, 2011 Consumer Forum in the Gambian capital, Banjul, according to the organiser, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
The conspicuous absence of the two institutions means consumers could not address their concerns regarding the services they provide in open and frank terms, leaving PURA without an option but to bring charges against them.
However, PURA fall short of telling the 4th Consumer Parliament how much it will charge them, however, an official claim they will consult amongst themselves and come up with whatever charges applicable.
Mandated by an Act of Parliament (the PURA Act 2001) to regulate public services in communications, electricity, water and sewage, and Internet Service Providers (ISP), its Director General, Abdoulie Jobe said “PURA is facilitating this opportunity for dialogue, exploration, and clarification, bringing to the attention of concerned parties, any issues that consumers may have about the services or the providers.”
“Consumer parliament is an awareness and interactive programme during which consumers of communications, electricity, water and sewage services meet face-to-face with the operators and are given the opportunity to express their views and complaints to them. It is one of the regulatory tools or interventions PURA uses as part of the provision of a holistic complaint resolution mechanism in fulfillment of our mandate under the PURA Act 2001,” Mr Jobe said.
Besides taking the consumer parliament to various regions of the country, PURA adopted a national variation of the consumer parliament dubbed “National Bantaba” intended specifically for the rural communities across the country.
PURA has devoted a significant amount of time and resources in developing its capacity and ensuring that the fundamentals are in place for an effective regulatory institution since 2004. However, its officials said they are conscious of the fact that regulatory practice requires tact and patience with all the many challenges it presents.
And Mr Jobe admitted that have made tough but equitable decisions in recent times that are not always acceptable by those regulated but necessary to ensure a level playing field (providing quality and affordability).
Respect for consumer-stance
Following the defiance of public outcry for the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) not to increase its charges for electricity during a February 12, 2011 public hearing, consumers have raised doubts as to how much their stance can be respected.
They even question how much power PURA has to ensure that service providers do not go against the wishes of their consumers provided that they decided to go against proposals by service providers to increase charges on their services.
When Gambians and non-Gambians yell publicly that NAWEC should not increase its electricity tariff, citing soaring prices for basic food items and low income, it took the Company less than four months to increase its charges even before announcing it.
NAWEC’s arguments was based on the huge financial losses the company has incurred due to long standing-exorbitant-debts, mainly dominated by government institutions, leaving the company in a state of financially in jeopardy.
- Author: Modou S. Joof for The Voice Newspaper