22 August 2014

Rwanda: New Water Agency Seeks to Recover Rwf6 Billion Owed By Consumers

The Water and Sanitation Corporation Ltd (WSC) is employing new measures to deal with the old problem of defaulters in a bid to recover a whopping Rwf6 billion in debts dating three decades back.

The newly-created agency, a restructure from the Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) says it has the capacity to recoup the money it is owed.

"We will do anything in our capacity to recover the money and restore efficiency in serving Rwandans," said James Sano, head of WSC.

"Of course, we want to recover everything that there's, but we also know it's an uphill task," he added.

How the defaulters accumulated such an insurmountable amount is a question with no particular answer but one that the water body's head attributes to a mix of historical and current factors.

For instance, in the immediate after-mirth of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi when the country was undergoing liberation, a phenomenon arose "where people took over things," a practice that was locally nicknamed kubohoza.

"During that time, people took over houses that didn't belong to them and in the process also inherited bills that have not been paid up to now," said Sano.

But that was a countrywide phenomenon and it now means the Water and Sanitation Corporation must sort figures and know who to apportion which bills and for which period.

Sano said WSC is not recruiting any specialised agencies to go after defaulters but that for public institutions on their defaulters' list, they will petition the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to help push them to pay.

When Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) wants to recover its taxes from dodgy taxpayers, the law allows them to seize bank accounts of defaulters, and now it appears the country's new water body wants to move in that direction.

Missing bills:

There have also been complaints among sections of the public that water subscribers have not received their monthly bills for the past five months.

But Sano ruled this as non-informed categories of people "who never pay attention to public announcements."

"We have made this clear in the past through the media that users must pick their bills from their (EWSA) branches, proceed to banks to make payments and bring slips to our offices to prove payment, and this has been the practice since February," Sano said.

It would mean that many users who have been unaware of the development have sat back in their homes and waited for water agents to deliver bills, now they risk being disconnected for nonpayment.

A recent auditor's report had brought to light allegations that the former EWSA water section procured a faulty software programme, Oracle, which could calculate the amount of water dispensed but couldn't bill.

But Sano said they have no billing problems.

"We have a system that bills 100 per cent and we built the software locally without spending any money, we don't have any billing issues," he said.

Heavy fines for cheats:

Another long-standing habit has been scrupulous people who illegally tap into the water pipes and use services illegally causing heavy losses to the water company. Sano said they have devised a deterrent mechanism.

"We will fine up to Rwf1 million for anyone caught stealing water or tampering with our infrastructure. We are not joking," the new water chief warned.

But as Sano talked tough, consumers will be demanding for steady and regular supply unlike the ongoing situation of rationing water in various suburbs.

During dry season, the suppliers blame the drought for water cuts, and during heavy rains, that plants are buried under mud.

"We are making increasing production a top priority. We are investing in a number of projects whose results should be expected within a year from now," Sano says.

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