Thursday, August 5, 2021

‘About 60’ customers affected by unauthorised fuel price increase at Sebele Centre

While it has not been able to establish the total amount of extra charge that was unlawfully levied on customers, the Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority says that “about 60” were affected.

The incident happened on March 31 hours before a BERA-prescribed price adjustment was to go into effect. After discovering that anomaly, BERA released a press statement late Tuesday afternoon, alerting customers.

“The Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) informs the public that there has been an incident in which North End Filling Station (Shell at Sebele Centre) adjusted their pump prices on the 31st March 2021 prior to the stipulated time. The Authority would like to notify all those that filled fuel at North End Filling Station on the 31 March 2021 between 1930hrs and 00:00hrs to contact the filling station to collect their refunds,” reads a statement from the Authority’s spokesperson, Tshepang Monare.

The filling station is owned by Vivo Energy Botswana, which released its own press statement attributing the anomaly to “some technicalities.” In response to a follow-up question from Sunday Standard, Monare gave a more detailed response.

“BERA established that the filling station experienced technical challenges where they automated their systems to adjust their prices at 2000 hours due to the curfew and on assumption of no sales after that. However, their system picked up their inputs immediately at 1930 hours at the point of inception,” he explained.

However, the problem with BERA’s solution is that it brings its own set of problems. Going back to the filling station may involve cost greater than the refund amount, some customers may never learn of BERA’s decision, others may have lost receipts and yet others may have been international transit motorists. In view of the latter, we had asked BERA whether, as a possible course of action, it wouldn’t have been more practical for it to claim the extra payment and redistribute it to affected and interested customers. In response, Monare said that BERA recognized that the filling station is better placed to reimburse its customers as it acknowledged the anomaly and is prepared to refund its customers. There is the legal aspect as well: in terms of the Authority’s consumer settlement procedures, consumers are supposed to exhaust all issues with service providers before taking up any matter with the regulator. The procedures outline the process of settling consumer complaints received by the Authority in relation to the regulated sectors and for related matters.

As to the question of whether the filling station would suffer any penalties, Monare said that “BERA appreciated the technical difficulties they faced and ordered the filling station to reimburse the consumers as an appropriate action under the circumstances depicted.”

Apparently, this is not the first time an incident of this nature has occurred.

“However, it’s the first time it happened to the filling station in concern,” Monare said.

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