City Defends Readings Estimates

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The City of Windhoek insists that its estimates on water consumption and charges are accurate and effective. This follows complaints by some Windhoek rate-payers that the city council’s practice of providing estimates of monthly water consumption as opposed to actual consumption inconveniences them. Ratepayers complain that under-estimations of readings in essence make them unwilling debtors, whereas over-estimations take away cash that they need at a particular time. In the meantime, employees from the city council say they are unable to access some homes during working hours to obtain accurate readings from meters that are installed inside residences. Because of security precautions around homes, meter readers fail to gain access to customers’ premises and end up issuing bills based on estimates. Meter readers complain about locked gates, vicious dogs, domestic workers refusing them entrance and meters that are covered with refuse. In January 2006, meter readers could not enter premises of 8 329 clients for the same reasons and in February, 7 832 residential meters were not read, leading to the council making bill estimates for that month. Accountant Metering, Stephanie Andrew explained that council staff always leave letters at the gate of customers, who are requested and expected to conduct meter readings themselves and fax them to council. Municipal regulations also state that no person shall prevent or restrict the engineer or any duly authorized official of the council from gaining access to any part of water or electricity connection on any premises. Only in cases where access fails does the city council provide estimates on the readings based on council regulations that encourage the estimation of readings in cases where no access to the meters can be obtained. A certain formula is applied to arrive at estimates. These estimates are done on an average consumption per day. Andrew gave the example of a client whose consumption readings for the month on March 15 is 240, while on April 15 reads 260. The consumption reading difference of 20 kiloliters is divided with the number of days (30days) when the last meter reading was done, in this case making 0.67 units per day. Should water readings for any reason during the following month (May) remain unread, the council takes the number of units per day of the last or previous readings and multiplies the number of days for that unread month to get an estimation. The next time the council gets a chance to read the meter, the municipal service system reverses and the unread units for the previous month are reflected together with the new reading. According to Andrew, this would determine whether the client was under or overcharged. In cases where the client is overcharged, Andrew said, the system would indicate credit against the name of the client and refund is usually transferred to the bill for the following month. “There is no way clients are getting ripped off and there is no way that the city council is benefiting. The system records when the last reading was done. When the new (next) reading is done, the system automatically calculates and would tell who has been overcharged or undercharged,” she explained. To further prevent any possible unacceptable practices where a meter reader might be tempted to invent his own readings in respect that he might know the reading patterns of a particular house, meter readers are regularly rotated throughout the city. In order to avoid further overcharging assumptions regarding meter readings, the City of Windhoek makes an option where owners of property can conduct their own meter readings every month provided they send readings to the relevant office. Since the introduction of Self Readers, as the service is referred to, more people have opted for this system. With approximately 3 500 Self Readers in Windhoek only, Andrew indicated that the figures continue to grow. Though these clients do the evaluation themselves, she was quick to say the council has a right to check the meters at any time at any residence. Another way of cutting down on estimations is Saturday roundups introduced since last year September. While this could be advantageous to the customer, another official at the City of Windhoek stated it is a costly exercise to the council as people who work on Saturdays are paid overtime. Some Windhoek residents have suggested that meters be erected outside the gates of houses. However, Andrew stated that this is another option for a client but whatever costs incurred would be the responsibility of the client. She highlighted that it is actually the property owner’s responsibility to make the meter accessible. In practical terms, the council has a right to charge a client whose meter is read on Saturdays. For members who might have doubts about their monthly bills, the council urges them to approach the relevant desk with enquiries. “It is the responsibility of the client to enquire if they suspect a problem.” Currently, the City of Windhoek provides its services to 120 000 clients. The service provider is owed approximately N$200 million, a situation that limits the council from performing to its optimum. “Generally, we need to continually supply water and electricity which we buy from Namwater and Nampower. If people do not pay, how do we purchase the needed service,” added a staff member who declined to be identified. For people who claim they are being “robbed”, the metering department says errors are inevitable. The public is therefore encouraged to make constructive criticism through the questionnaires provided by the council for improved customer service.

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