In this interview, Our Reporter LLOYD CHITSULO engages Blantyre Water Board (BWB) public affairs officer PRISCILLA MATEYU to clarify on a number of complaints consumers have expressed regarding pre-paid meters installed in some residential areas in Blantyre. Experts:
Consumers are complaining on the billing of the new pre-paid meters. What can you say on this?
The previous pre-paid water meters in New Naperi were installed under a pilot phase. After monitoring and evaluating their performance, we came up with these new meters which are technologically advanced in efficiency.
For instance, the pre-paid meters being installed now have several facilities which are to the advantage of the customer. Due to their standard transfer specification facility, there is no need for the board to have several operating systems for different meters. This means that with one operating system, the board can be able to buy the same kind of meter from different manufacturers and operate using one system.
This will also be of advantage to customers because they can be able to purchase water credit from our pay points, mobile service providers, banks and convenience stores without any problem. On top of that, the new meters offer overdraft facility to customers when water credit has run out at odd times such as weekend and at night time. Customers can also be able to view their history of consumption to manage their water usage. They can also input their tokens within the confines of their homes without necessarily going out to where the meter is installed. The meters have an alarm facility which warns the customers when water credit is running low. There is also no meter reading fee on this system. In all this you can see that these meters are good for our customers and quite an improvement from the ones installed during the pilot study.
What we have also discovered is that most customers who have come in to complain about high bills have leakages in their plumbing systems. We have advised them to repair the leakages. The same pre-paid meters have also been installed in Soche East and Nkolokosa A and B, but there are no complaints over consumption from those two areas.
You are now charging meter rental per cubic meter purchased while previously you were charging a fixed amount. Don’t you think this is making life unbearable for a consumer?
It is true that in the past we were charging a meter rental of K774.30 every month regardless of whether water has been consumed in that month. However, this new system has added advantage to customers because they are only paying meter rentals on water consumed. If for instance in that month they have not bought any water, they will not be paying meter rentals. So, this is good for our customers.
When buying water credit some consumers discovered that they have outstanding bills which they do not know of and are feeling that they are being ripped off. What is your take on that?
When the pilot project was being initiated in New Naperi in 2013, some customers had arrears. Unfortunately, it was practically impossible to recover the arrears through that system because it did not have that facility. That is why this time around, the debts have been credited to customers pre-paid meter accounts so that the money is recovered. We explained this to the customers and most of them are settling their accounts without any problems.
Information on Google suggests that the cost of these types of meters is $50 (about K37 000) per meter. Can you explain how they are costing you K180 000?
We cannot competently comment on this matter based on Google findings.