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Government stops secret water hike

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A day after The Daily Times unearthed a secret water tariff hike by water utility companies, government Thursday moved in quickly and stopped the increase describing it as illegal.

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha made the announcement in Parliament after Member of Parliament for Lilongwe Mapuyu North, Horace Chipuwa, queried government on the matter.

“It was worrisome to understand that at a time when government claims that inflation has gone down, water boards have decided to increase the tariffs without notifying their customers,” Chipuwa said.

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In his response, Mwanamvekha described the decision as illegal.

“I checked with what is happening on the ground and found out that indeed they have increased [the tariffs]. But it is unprocedural and illegal because the Water Works Act and Consumer Protection Act are clear in terms of procedures that need to be followed,” he said.

“We have directed that that increment should be reversed immediately, but that issue will still be looked at because of other fundamentals like cash flow in water boards,” he said.

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The Daily Times investigation revealed this week that the increase was not made public and that for the past three months, consumers have unknowingly been paying more for the water.

New information emerging shows that the water boards may be asked to reimburse consumers the money they collected between July and October this year because they flouted the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

The CPA clearly spells out remedies in Section 3.

There is a provision giving entitlement to consumers to get “full, timely, adequate and prompt compensation for damages suffered, which are attributed to a supplier or trader” and this can include refunds.

Responding to our question on whether or not CFTA may consider requesting the water boards to give refunds to consumers affected by the decision, CFTC Director of Consumer Welfare and Education, Lewis Kulisewa, said after the commission establishes what happened, it would then look at what remedies will be sufficient to address the complaints.

“The commission has a robust and methodical process of case investigation. Our investigation on the current issue is still ongoing,” he said.

By raising tariffs without informing the general public, water boards flouted the provisions in Section 6 of the CPA, which makes it mandatory for service providers to provide consumers with true, sufficient and timely information on the services they offer.

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