Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fun With the Water Company

The other day we got the shock of our life when we received our monthly water bill here in Ouagadougou. Normally we pay between 3,000 – 6,000 FCFA (about $6-$12). But this time, our bill was for 90,000 FCFA (nearly $200)!!!

Checking past bills, I noted that the number for the water meter reading had not changed since July of last year! However, each month, we were charged for a reasonable amount of water. Where they got that number from, I don't know, unless it was based on past usage patterns. However, just to be sure, I checked with our neighbours to make sure they didn’t have a hidden swimming pool in their part of the house somewhere… and then I questioned our guards to determine if they had a little business of selling water to neighbours on the side… Nope.

Finally, I decided to go and have a look at the water meter itself. Imagine my surprise to discover that it was quite impossible to read! There was so much condensation on the inside of the glass that the numbers on the counter could not be seen enough to even guess at what they might be. Which might explain why the meter reading number never changed for the past 6 months, right?

Then, suddenly, on our most recent bill, the number did change… significantly enough to put our water usage rate into the highest category (which is 10 times higher than the normal rate we pay). They must have pulled this number out of the air because there was no way they could read the meter.

I mentioned this to a Burkinabè colleague at work. To my surprise, he immediately pulled out his water bill to show me that he, who receives a monthly income of under $100, had just been billed for nearly $375! I soon discovered that the national water utility was doing this all over the city. And of course, people were going in to complain. Which is exactly what my colleague did. I waited to see what would happen with him before lodging my own complaint.

His bill was cut down to about $70, payable in four easy instalments. But no justification was given for this amount (It sounds like a creative income-generating project to me! Charge an absurd amount, and then cut it down significantly when people come in to complain. Most will probably be so relieved and thankful that they’ll willing pay the reduced amount :) So he decided to call a friend of his who worked at the utility and told him about both our cases (everything works on relationships here in Burkina) His friend said he could help us get this straightened out properly. My colleague is down at the utility with him this morning. I’ll let you know what happens :P

1 comment:

Laura Dun said...

I eagerly await the next installment!