By Raffique Shah
October 11, 2016
Recently, I received a bill from WASA which warned that I owed an outstanding balance of $590.40 that was due immediately, as well as $196.80 for the current billing cycle, October-December.
What got me mad was the word “owing”. I have always paid my water bills promptly, which is usually at the beginning of each quarter. I could not believe that I had not paid for three quarters. Someone at WASA is involved in a scam, I thought. But before I called the highest official I could access and put a good cussing on him, I reasoned, let me check my records.
I pay all my bills online, which is one of the conveniences that the Internet has brought that I rather like. I have used it for many years, and it works well: no queuing up at the utilities’ and services’ pay-windows, and no exposure to the elements or criminals.
I keep records of all my payments, which I have prioritised according to my values: water first, followed by electricity, Internet, telephone, mobile phone and last and very much least, cable television.
So I accessed my “bills paid” file even as my brain dialled up a few choice Trump-words I’d unleash on WASA, scanned it from January to current, and found there was no payment to the utility. How come? The only explanation was that WASA had failed to bill me. I’m certain of that.
I immediately proceeded to settle full payment for the year, still contemplating calling someone to complain to about not being billed. Because of their delinquency, I could have suffered the shame of having a full WASA crew, maybe led by the CEO and security chief, storming my premises to disconnect my water supply.
On reflection, it occurred to me that that will never happen when last have you seen WASA disconnect anyone for any infraction? If anything, you’d sooner see them, or their electricity counterparts, connecting some unauthorised structure, giving service and legitimacy to lawless people, more than likely on directives from politicians.
As I considered WASA, which Finance Minister Colm Imbert identified in his budget presentation as being dependent on the Government for hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year, I mentally re-examined my bill—$787.20 per year, or $2.15 per day.
For that sum, I can’t buy even the smallest-size bottled water which, although its label may mention “purified” or some such marketing catch-word, is more than likely WASA’s tap water, which is what I normally drink. But in my modest three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, my family of three-plus can shower twice, three times daily, flush the toilets, cook, wash dishes and clothes, and waste water if we were so inclined—all for two dollars a day.
Something is radically wrong in this arithmetic the companies that “purify”, bottle and sell WASA water make tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars in profits annually, but WASA loses big time, requiring huge subsidies to keep its head above water, quite literally.
It gets worse, though. I know of houses and households way more expansive than mine that are billed lower than mine. I know, too, of squatters’ settlements where the few who have WASA connections sell water to their neighbours at exorbitant rates. I also know of people who have businesses that consume huge volumes of water, but who pay next to nothing. And I’m sure, given the general slackness at the utility, thousands of unregistered customers pay nothing.
At its current peppercorn rates, ranging from $275 per year for low-end residences to $474 per month for commercial and industrial properties, if WASA ensures billings and collections from all consumers, the utility might break even, or possibly make a profit. Better still, the Regulated Industries Commission, which is the agency empowered to grant utilities like WASA and T&TEC increased rates, should seriously consider increasing water rates for residential, commercial and industrial properties that are valued at, say, more than $750,000. In other words, continue to protect the poor (but lock them up if they waste water!), but let those who can afford it pay more realistic rates for potable water.
The $2-a-day rate I quoted in my case is less than the price of one cigarette, a sip of beer, a shot of alcohol, a Play Whe mark or Lotto ticket, a hops bread…need I continue?
Except for consumers who receive an irregular or no supply of water from WASA, who can, in conscience, resist a 50 per cent increase in rates, or even 100 per cent?
Show me the objector and I’ll show you a scoundrel posing as a patriot.