Hello – anybody there? (part 3 and end)

Amsterdam residents with roots in the pre-digital age will (i.e. everyone over 40) remember that once upon a time they had to go to the rather unpleasant offices of the city’s electricity utility (Gemeente Energie Bedrijf, or GEB) to pay their bills. That’s all in the past of course. Here in Senegal, this is an evolving story.

ahhh, the good old days... (sort of)

Here, our great, wonderful, lovely electricity supplier Senelec (third largest company in the country, annual turnover of some 350 million euros, according to a 2011 survey by business magazine Reussir) used to insist on cash payment at one of their offices. There was one nearby, across the Autoroute de l’Aéroport. Was.

Routine procedure. Take a book along, because this will take time. Get in early. Take a number. If you’re late, you’ll be #150 in the queue. There are a grand total of TWO windows for this crowd of remarkably patient customers. If you hang in there, their numbers will drop fairly rapidly because a lot of people, facture in hand, payment at the ready, will leave before it’s their turn. Still, expect to spend an hour (or two – or three) here as the electronic queue counter bleeps the numbers up until it reaches you.

Now – a few enterprising men and women decided that there was a niche here. They gave you an alternative. Forget about the Senelec payment office, drab as only state utilities can build them. Instead, go to a neat little office, pay your bill, and leave. You get a receipt and are told to come back tomorrow. Takes all of five minutes. Come in the next day and find the receipt waiting, stamped and all – proof of payment.

Price of this excellent service? The grand total of 500 CFA Francs, €0,75. Needless to say, business was booming.

So what did Senelec do? Give thanks and praises to these entrepreneurs? Help them set up a system to incorporate this neat example of customer friendliness into their own system?

Er, no.

Instead, we got this advert in the press. I paraphrase, but only slightly:

‘For some time, courtesy cabinets have been offering, through the newspapers, services related to the payment of electricity bills in a private capacity. Senelec informs its customers that it has not set up any private structure outside its own commercial offices that can cash electricity bills…Paying the amount due to an intermediary does not constitute a settlement towards Senelec and does not exonerate the customer from the risk of having delivery of electricity suspended should the obligation of payment not be respected…’

and do note the payoff...

A fine piece of warm fuzzy, customer friendliness, written I’d suspect by some bureaucrat with warm fuzzy memories from certain European countries that used to be run by political parties wielding Red Stars and slogans about the World Proletariat Defeating Imperialism (yes, these existed and I visited four of them; I have the pictures…).

Now – fast-forward a few months (I told you: this is an evolving story) and the following happens.

You see: Senelec sends bills but it does not always send electricity. Amazingly, people get upset about this, especially if this goes on for months. So in June 2011, for a whole variety of reasons, people were really fed up and some members of the Great Senegalese Public went into the same offices where they used to sit, patiently, for hours on end, waiting their turn to pay their facture

…and smashed them up.

Senelec across the road from where I live? Closed.

Senelec in Ouakam, on the other side of the airport, which now administers the electricity supply for my part of town? Barely functioning.

The story is repeated all over town and indeed the country.

So who is there to take up the slack? Ha! Those maligned agents who had yanked Senelec’s bill settlement system straight into the 20th century!! They now sport brand new signs above their entrances and statements to the effect that they are “officially approved”. That includes the lady who runs my payment office. Only thing is: she now has to go all the way to town, to the Senelec Head Office with the factures and the cash. But that headache is royally offset by the fact that today she also runs payment services for water, the mobile phone – and of course: she’s a Western Union agent.

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One Response to “Hello – anybody there? (part 3 and end)”

  1. Hello – anybody there? (part 3 and end) | Plano Electrician Says:

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