February 16, 2010

Paying for Air or a New Utilities Billing Concept

Our office here just received its monthly water bill a few days ago. About $30. This is a lot for an office and it is twice what we were paying about a year ago. Worse, the water service is so infrequent that we often go several days with no running water. I asked our accounting manager why the sudden jump in the cost when we were using less water.

The accountant explained that we were paying for air. Yes. Really. After noticing that our bills were unusually high given the usage, the accountant and a plumber did a test. They checked the water meter when there was no service and noticed that the meter was running. After some tests, they realized that whenever we opened any water faucet or tried to flush the toilet, the meter would count that as water used! I thought this was impossible.

A couple days ago, I ran into the water meter reader. He seemed friendly and I asked him about this strange billing. He actually admitted that this was indeed the case and that many people were complaining about it but that there was nothing he could do.

The water utility was privatized a couple years ago as one of these World Bank / IMF imperatives. The quality of the water has not improved; the service has gotten worse and the prices have increased. I was in the office of the CEO of the water utility once and I thought it was very telling that he had bottled water on his desk!

I have not seen the new financial results for the water utility. I would not be surprised to see that their profitability increased substantially. After all, they are the exclusive distributor of paid air in the country.

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