Water Board-needs to be Pro-Active | Daily News


Water Board-needs to be Pro-Active

Just a few weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us, I had an unpleasant surprise in the form of my monthly water bill.

For many years my bill had averaged about Rs. 400 a month. I have always maintained a surplus balance.

The February bill was an unbelievable Rs. 9,000!

In a panic I contacted the Water Board area engineer thinking there may be a leak. He promptly sent an inspection team who having examined the pipes confirmed that there was no leak.

While chatting to me the team leader looked at my water meter and discovered that the meter reader of the Water Board had made an unbelievable mistake in recording the readings. For numeral 1 he had recorded a 7. Therefore, instead of reading the correct 10 it had been recorded 70 (for example, the figures are approximations) as the ending number. Naturally the bill was high!

Although the error was by their own meter reader, the team leader advised me to go to their newly opened office at Balapokuna Road, Kirilapone to have it corrected. He made an endorsement on my bill and also advised me to take a photo of the current meter reading on my mobile phone as proof.

Then came the curfew

Early May, when curfew was slightly relaxed I went to the Balapokuna Road office. On the way I was stopped by the police to whom I had to explain the purpose of my journey.

At the Water Board office, you have to go through the Corona imposed ritual of washing hands and having your temperature checked. There was a middle aged officer there who appeared to be the manager, he was diplomatic and approachable. But of course, he had no solution (the problem created by their own meter reader). All the work had to be done by me. He advised me to await the next meter reading which will show the correct situation and to bring the bill to him.

NWSDB Head Offices

After about two weeks I got the latest meter reading which was correct, and much less than the original 70 (now after three months, it was like a 50).

Again I took the new reading (Bill) and went to Balapokuna Road. This time there was a very long line of service receivers standing in the hot sun (inside the office was air-conditioned). Their complaint was that they had received an estimated bill, higher than the usual amount. The same amiable officer came out to assure them that their bills will eventually get adjusted. Although the crowd looked uncertain, most of them dispersed.

I finally managed to get to the air conditioned office. In there was a female office barricaded behind a big rope who apparently was the complaints officer. The manager was too occupied and sat even further, at the end of the room. There was at least three yards between us and all complaints had to be shouted at her. As we were all possible Covid -19 carriers, sooner we got out of her presence the better for her! Even before I could explain the mess their meter reader had created she pointed out a form kept outside asking me to fill it. In it I wrote “faulty meter reading” and kept the document safely out of her touch.

In the first place, I cannot understand why in there so called “dangerous” days the Water Board keeps its complaints office open to enact a farce (a comedy). And even if it is open, why persons so hygienically super-sensitive should work in such places. She would serve better in a back room doing computer work.

Even if one ignores the understandable responses of officials terrified of the Corona infection, can the complaints office of the water Board solve a problem like mine? The additional Rs. 9,000 that the faulty reading of the meter added to my bill is still there. Even the last bill statement recording a number 50 reading (which clearly shows the error in the previous bill recording of 70) did not move the office to amend my bill. In fact, the complaints officer did not ask to see my bills. She took only the complaints sheet.

I believe if it was a private sector office (to which I was making a monthly payment) the matter would have had a speedy resolution. My bills would show that there was an error on the part of the meter reader. The amount involved is not great and my record would bear out a good, long term customer. It would not be my burden to prove the faults of their meter reader.

The friendly manager is good at public relations (he justified the laborious health precautions by saying that it was possible for his employees to be Corona carriers and therefore the various precautions were in place to protect the dear customer!).

But do our problems get solved? All that seem to happen is that another bureaucratic step is created. No problem is solved on the phone or at his managerial discretion. This officer was not only amiable also looked and sounded intelligent. If only he was empowered.

This perhaps is the difference between a public monopoly and a competitive private sector. More than four months now, the blundering water meter reader has kept the tap open!

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