Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) has lost about K25 million through a syndicate that allegedly issued counterfeit bill payment receipts to about 400 customers in Karonga.
NRWB spokesperson Edward Nyirenda said in an interview at the weekend that the board has launched an investigative audit in an attempt to crack down on the syndicate.
He also confirmed that two of the board‘s employees have been fired for allegedly collecting payments from water consumers but never remitting the money into the board’s account.
Said Nyirenda: “It is true that two of our employees were adjusting customers’ accounts with receipts and yet cash was not received and remitted to the board.
“When this was discovered by our internal audit, a disciplinary action was taken on the two staff and have since been dismissed and NRWB has restored the wrong adjustments back to the customers’ accounts. Investigations are continuing to determine the extent and if indeed other schemes are affected.”
He said the fraud was two-fold. In one instance, Nyirenda said, NRWB employees received bill payments but did not remit the funds and issued customers counterfeit receipts while in other cases the board’s staff allegedly conspired with some corporate customers to issue them lower bills.
Karonga Petroda Filling Station official, Chisomo Banda, confirmed that the station was on the list of culprits and is being asked to pay K493 000 which they already paid last year and have receipts to that effect.
Another customer appearing on the list is Tukumbukeghe Motel with a bill of about K1.2 million.
In an interview, the motel’s manager, Godwin Mushani, said the bill in question was sorted out last year.
The customers have the backing of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Karonga which has picked up the issue.
Karonga Diocese CCJP desk officer Louis Nkhata said they put up radio adverts calling for all customers with issues in the district to report to their office and said as of last week at least 400 customers were affected.
On why the board is pushing the responsibility to customers for internal system failure, Nyirenda said customers have the obligation to pay bills and only those with compelling evidence will have their cases considered.
But a source at NRWB said the move was a desperate attempt to recover money from customers following a system failure. The source said the board was using an old system which has become prone to manipulation; hence, it was difficult to detect such irregularities as was the case in Karonga.
The dismissed employees refused to respond to our questions, saying they have taken the matter to court.