Many consumers of the Dhaka WaterSupply and Sewerage Authority had in recent months to shuttle between theirhomes and the respective WASA zone offices to prove that claims made on them ofoverdue bills dating back to months or years were not true, or pay the same toavoid penal action like disconnection of water lines.
Most such consumers succeeded toproduce receipt copies of bills paid by them and expressed indignation thatthey were forced to search for the old receipts and produce those to WASA zoneoffices for no fault of theirs. Some others were not so lucky, as they did notsucceed to locate and produce a few of the sought after receipts.
One annoyed consumer told newsmenthat they suffer for inefficient account keeping of the utility service."We have to take no-claim certificates from them about payment of billsevery year. The certificates are then treated as proofs."
When contacted an WASA officialsaid the complexity in account keeping arose due to some communications gap betweenthe bank branches where the consumers made payments and the WASA zone officeswhere the central consumer accounts are maintained. The official however,expressed his optimism that the problem would go soon after the banks introduceonline banking services soon. The official however noted that they find some defaulterconsumers too, who pay overdue bills after the receipt of notices. The questionis why the faults in billing and payments should take years to detect when WASAhas regular employees on its payroll. Don't they have to produce completedaccounts at the end of every month, every quarter and every year?
Another utility service provider,The Telegraph and Telephone Board once used to do the same kind of practice tothe great discomfort of its land-phone consumers. The law and rules governingits administration, once a state monopoly, was so harsh that people even withunauthorised possession of telephones wires were liable for punishment. And incase of dispute over the payment bills the burden of proof was always on theconsumers. The same practice still remains with the Board's services. But withits monopoly gone as people rely more on mobile or wireless phones pressure onconsumers for backlog accounting has lessened to some extent.
But electricity and gas consumersare also making similar complaints of complexities over accounting lapsesdating back to years. These still remain state monopolies. A former editor of anational news organisation recently received a notice of overdue billsamounting tens of thousands of Taka. As he took up the matter with the relevantoffice of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company, the said officeshowed a fault in the account and asked the said editor to produce hismunicipal holdings document. Titas Gas has issued letters to many otherconsumers asking for payment of bills on the plea of hardly explained accountsbalance several years old.
Some offices of the DhakaElectric Supply Company (DESCO) have gone several steps further in this regard.One power consumer of the Mirpur area of the city has informed that about aweek ago he was given a letter for the payment of Taka 40,000 as fine foralleged meter-tempering in his house little over three years ago. He went tothe concerned DESCO office, produced the bills he paid and informed concernedofficials that the complaint of tempering with the meter did not arise as hisresidential house had the supply of gas to cook food. There was also no recordof any complaint made three years ago about the alleged meter tempering.
It is clear from the above thatthe utility services are each playing four roles simultaneously - as 1)providers of services, 2) executives, 3) complainants, as well as 4) arbitrars,and their poor consumers are always at the receiving end. All the four powerscombined in the utility organisations might be responsible for the tendencyshift the price of their mistakes or callousness on to the consumers that theyowe their jobs.