By PREMILA KUMAR, CEO, CONSUMER COUNCIL OF FIJI
THE Consumer Council of Fiji has found that the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) has no defined legal powers to use ‘estimated readings’ in their billing system.
The Council finds that the use of estimated readings is subjective and very unjust to consumers.
In the past couple of weeks, the Council has been inundated by complaints from consumers where many have high bills due to estimated readings by WAF. Many customers are being charged 100 units on estimated billing despite using less units than this amount. WAF has argued that 100 units is a minimum charge that it imposes for estimated readings.
Customers have complained to the Council, with some referring to WAF’s actions as “daylight robbery” others calling the practice as “unethical”. Some consumers have even called for legal action against WAF. Customers who consume less than 100 units have been charged at higher rates resulting in some seeing their bills increase by a 100%.
The Council has found that there are no provisions in the Water Authority of Fiji Promulgation 2007 or in other related laws and regulations that prescribes ‘estimated reading’ to be used by WAF for its billing system. While the WAF can only fix rates, impose charges and price increases in accordance with directives from the Fiji Commerce Commission, there is nothing to say that it can use ‘estimated reading’.
Instead of realizing the gap in the legislation and seeking necessary redress, WAF has gone ahead to use whatever billing method it has chosen to impose on consumers. The Council finds that WAF being a monopoly is acting irresponsibly by using a subjective and arbitrary billing system on unsuspecting consumers.
Water is a fundamental to life as air. It is a basic necessity. The provision of such a basic necessity should be done under a system that is accessible, affordable and just. The WAF should not be left to treat water as profitable commodity, but must ensure that consumers are paying a fair price and not a price based on subjective estimations.
The Council is calling on WAF to waiver all estimated bills where customers have been charged more than they have consumed.