Water secretly increased
For the past three months, Malawians have unknowingly been paying more for water because water boards secretly increased water tariffs by 15 percent, The Daily Times can reveal.
We also know that, for commercial usage, companies have, without any notice, been paying 20 percent more, which is against Section 6 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
The CPA makes it mandatory for service providers to give consumers true, sufficient, clear and timely information on the services they offer.
The increase in water tariffs comes at a time when people are anticipating an increase in electricity bills once the much touted generators arrive in the country.
Last week, the government was forced to move in and stop the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services from raising fees on traffic offences after a public outcry.
Our investigations show that Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) increased their tariffs in August while Blantyre Water Board (BWB) raised the tariffs in September.
BWB was charging K582.50 for meter rentals and K349.50 for meter reading services but the charges for the two have since risen to K1, 165 and K932, respectively.
By our calculation, this means that the charge for meter rentals has also been hiked by 100 percent.
One of the receipts in our possession shows that a customer was billed K4, 776.50 for consuming 10 cubic metres of water in June but paid K5, 475.50 for the same volume in September.
Random interviews with residents of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu this week established that some residents have noted that their water bills have gone up and complained to the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC).
“We used to pay an average of K7, 000 per month but, in September, we received bills of K19, 000 while our bill for October was K12, 000. This is strange because we have never paid that much for water,” said a Lilongwe resident who lives in one of the high density areas.
NRWB, are the only ones who were brave enough to confirm the increase. NRWB spokesperson, Edward Nyirenda, said the board increased tariffs by 15 percent — effective August 1 2017— after the government approved it in the 2017/18 financial year.
Nyirenda said the board communicates to customers about tariff increases through various channels, including public notices and meetings with customers in its water supply arrears.
We could not independently verify whether NRWB really hiked tariffs without informing consumers.
“I’m surprised that this issue is coming up now. We followed all necessary procedures. Prior to any tariff increase, the board holds engagement meetings with its customers to alert them on any pending tariff increase. Proposed tariff increases are submitted to the government for approval as part of each year’s annual budget,” Nyirenda said.
Efforts to talk to LWB Chief Executive Officer, Alfonso Chikuni, proved futile as his mobile phone went unanswered on several attempts in the morning hours of yesterday and it was off in the afternoon.
CFTC Director for Consumer Welfare and Education, Lewis Kulisewa, said that many consumers have lodged complaints on the tariff increases.
He said that the commission has launched formal investigations to validate the complaints before taking any action.
“The investigation is ongoing and, as soon as the investigation is concluded, we will advise the general public [accordingly],” he said.
Section 6 of the CPA makes it mandatory for service providers to provide consumers with true, sufficient, clear and timely information on the services they offer.
According to Kulisewa, any failure to provide the same constitutes an offence under the CPA and the Competition and Fair Trading Act.
BWB spokesperson, Priscilla Mateyu, asked for a questionnaire but was yet to respond as we went to press.
Mateyu did not pick our calls when we wanted to follow up on the issue.
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