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SECRET WATER HIKE: Blantyre Water Board offers to pay back

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The board of commissioners of the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) has resolved that the decision taken by Blantyre Water Board (BWB) to refund excess money paid by consumers, after the board secretly raised tariffs, is sufficient remedy under consumer protection laws.

The decision was made during the 51st meeting the board held on January 26 to consider and adjudicate on cases of alleged unfair trading practices, anti-competitive conduct, mergers and acquisition.

In November 2017, The Daily Times busted a three months’ secret in which water boards had secretly raised water tariffs by 15 percent for domestic users and 20 percent for commercial customers.

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The decision was in breach of Section 6 of the Consumer Protection Act, which makes it mandatory for service providers to give consumers true, sufficient, clear and timely information on the services they offer.

CFTC Executive Director, Wezi Malonda, said BWB voluntarily reversed the tariff hike in October 2017, which is satisfactory remedy warranting closure of the case.

“The commission noted that BWB made an undertaking to refund the excess money paid by consumers during the period, when the increased tariffs were in force.

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“This undertaking is sufficient remedy acceptable under consumer protection laws,” she said.

Our investigations had found that all water boards had effected tariff hikes without notifying consumers but CFTC said it had only received complaints against BWB and that, if there were similar issues at the other water boards, these were not brought to its [CFTC] attention.

However, when contacted yesterday, BWB Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Chaweza, said heads of all the water boards operating in the country were in a closed-door meeting to decide the modalities that would be followed to reimburse consumers the excess money.

Chaweza could not be drawn to comment further but indicated that, once a decision is made, consumers would be notified.

Our investigations had found that Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) increased their tariffs in August 2017 while BWB raised the tariffs in September.

One case we considered in our inquiry was where a customer was billed K4,776.50 for consuming 10 cubic metres of water in June 2017 but paid K5,475.50 for the same volume in September, representing a tariff increase of 15 percent.

Random interviews we had conducted with residents of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu established that some residents noted that their water bills had gone up and lodged complaints with CFTC.

A day after The Daily Times unearthed the secret water tariff hike by water utility companies, government 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 the government on the matter.

Speaking to Parliament, Mwanamvekha described the decision as illegal and indicated that his ministry had directed that that increment be reversed immediately.

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