Having taught in a challenging school environment for fourteen years, I pride myself on being able to decipher the scribbled hieroglyphics of attempts at literacy and numeracy produced by school children so that I can evaluate their thought processes and award some marks. However, when it comes to unravelling the alpha-numeric mysteries of the billing system of the Guyana Water Incorporated, my hard-won skills fail. I have mastered GPL’s and GTT’s bills, but GWI’s seems to be light years ahead of me.
On January 29, 2009, a GWI meter reader visited my property to read the meter. His reading was 0054.186. A few days later on February 3, a GWI surveyor from Georgetown came and read the meter as showing 00505.819. Note the enormous difference in the readings. The first consists of seven digits and gives a total of 54.186 cubic metres, while the second has eight digits, with a total of 505.819 cubic metres. Apparently, my small household used the fantastic volume of 451 cubic metres in 5 days, no mean amount of water (2,050 barrels)! Even if all my taps were left on for the time water flows (8 hours a day on the rare good days), the most that can be collected is 7.1 cubic metres or 32 barrels a day. My wife took careful note of these readings and passed on the information to me.
When I checked the meter on February 13, 2008, the reading was 362 cubic metres. The last time I checked it on March 19, 2008, the reading was 376 cubic metres, so the surveyor’s reading looks more credible, while the meter man’s reading has to be the product of an ocular defect or numerate deficiency or unfamiliarity with measuring instruments. I wonder how the clerks transcribe the meter man’s readings into their books or computers.
On February 9, my wife went to the GWI Chesney office to pay our water bill. She was told, with no supporting documentation or bill or meter readings shown to her, that we owe $4,900 for last year and $13,800 for this year, a total of $18,700, all fixed charges, not charges derived from meter readings. Because the office was crowded, people were shouting and tempers were getting frayed, my wife, being a quiet person, decided to pay $9,000, and so we now owe GWI $9,700. She was told by the cashier that if GWI finds that we are using more water they will charge us more. How else can they determine our water usage except by the meter, and from the readings it provides, we are using less. Will they refund us?
The next day, when the atmosphere was more conducive to courteous interactions, she returned with her queries. As recounted by her, the following is the very revealing discourse she had with a GWI clerk.
Hackett: Why are we being charged a fixed rate when a meter is attached?
GWI: mumble, mutter, mumble, mutter…
Hackett: What then is the use of the meter?
GWI: We don’t charge for under use of water, but we charge for use and over use of water.
Hackett: But we don’t over use water, we under use water.
GWI: mutter, mumble, mutter, mumble…
Hackett: I would like to have my water bill.
GWI: The bill is not here. Georgetown has it.
Hackett: I want to know how much water we are using.
GWI: We will send the bill to you.
Hackett: Can I have the meter readings and the dates?
GWI: Georgetown has them.
Hackett: Can I know the amount of cubic metres of water we have used?
GWI: Georgetown has it.
Hackett: What is the cost for 1 cubic metre of water?
Given the meter readings I quoted above – the credible ones, that is – from February 13, 2008 to February 3, 2009, my household consumed 144 cubic metres of water, at an average rate of 0.4 cubic metres a day, equivalent to 1.8 barrels a day. I showed the same average in a letter to the press last year. My wife insists that our daily use is less than 1.8 barrels and that perhaps the meter is “running too fast,” and, knowing our water usage, I would tend to agree.
But having great respect for measuring instruments, I told her we will have to abide by the meter readings. So on average we use 148 cubic metres a year and the total cost should be $9,013. It was on this basis that on March 18, 2008 I willingly paid the fixed charge of $8,900 for last year. I am now at a loss to figure out how we still owe $4,900 for last year.
The fixed charge of $13,800 presumes our household uses 226.6 cubic metres annually, which it doesn’t. I suppose GWI is using an average figure and is charging each household that average on the innumerate presumption that average means all and therefore consumers who ‘under use’ must pay for consumers who ‘over use.’ What is the rationale for installing water meters when consumers are being charged at a fixed rate and not at the metered rates?
Michael and Mardai Hackett
We are sending a copy of this letter to PRO of Guyana Water Inc, Mr Rawle Aaron, for any comments he might wish to make.