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Editorial CommentOpinion & Analysis

This carelessness should not happen again

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Reports that the board of commissioners of the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) has resolved that the decision taken by BlantyreWater Board (BWB) to refund excess money paid by consumers after it secretly raised water tariffs is a sufficient remedy cannot go without comment.

In the first place, it was uncalled for that such a hike was made before the customers were notified about it. Today, BWB has found itself in a situation it could have avoided.

Did authorities at the public utility body think that people could not feel the increase? That, in simplest terms, can be described as deception, even theft. It is a total shame that a respectable company could use such tactics.

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Now having looked clever at first, the board has found itself in a mess of repaying its customers excess money the customers paid for being supplied with what, in some cases, was unreliable water flow.

Much as it is soothing that CFTC Executive Director, Wezi Malonda, has said BWB voluntarily reversed the tariff hike in October 2017, and that it was finally agreed that the board would refund its customers, there are more questions than answers on how people entrusted with State enterprises are performing.

Did they really have to wait for Times Group to expose the trick and then reverse the decision after being taken to task by CFTC? What happened to their integrity? Is it not the same virtue that President Peter Mutharika has been preaching times without number?

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

So, in simple terms, by its decision to hike water tariffs, authorities at BWB committed an offence. Elsewhere, that would attract some administrative action. Here, nothing may happen at all.

BWB may be lucky that it will just refund the excess money the customers paid. However, we cannot rule out the fact that other aggrieved customers may look at the increase in their own way by even asking for more than just a refund. This may, in the long run, cost the board more than what it thought.

It is, therefore, important that public institutions must strive to maintain their integrity. These are institutions which, in most cases, are riddled with scandals such as those of funding ruling political parties. They should not add to already brimming lists of blunders by making decisions which, in the end, bring them nothing but shame.

This carelessness, which should be better described by its fair term of pure theft, should never happen again! We will keep watching like we have always done.

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