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Fiji Time: 6:12 AM on Saturday 19 April

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No right to estimate

Felix Chaudhary
Friday, January 18, 2013

THE Water Authority of Fiji has no defined legal powers to use estimated readings in their billing system, according to Consumer Council CEO Premila Kumar.

However, the authority says estimations are only made when its officers are not able to access meters for quarterly readings, and that customers are billed according to usage, based on quarterly readings.

Ms Kumar said there was sufficient evidence to prove estimated readings were being used based on the large number of complaints from consumers over the past few weeks.

Citing the Water Authority of Fiji Promulgation 2007, Ms Kumar said there were no laws or legislation that allowed the authority to use estimations as a basis for billing.

"The council has found that there are no provisions in the Water Authority of Fiji Promulgation 2007 or in other related laws and regulations that prescribe 'estimated reading' to be used by WAF for its billing system," she said.

"While the WAF can only fix rates, impose charges and price increases in accordance with directives from the Fiji Commerce Commission, there is nothing to say that it can use 'estimated reading'."

Ms Kumar said because it was operating as a monopoly, the authority had arbitrarily imposed an unfair billing system instead of amending issues with current legislation.

"Instead of realising the gap in the legislation and seeking necessary redress, WAF has gone ahead to use whatever billing method it has chosen to impose on consumers.

"The council finds that WAF, being a monopoly, is acting irresponsibly by using a subjective and arbitrary billing system on unsuspecting consumers."

WAF responded, saying there were provisions in the water supply by-laws under which estimations could be used, and that estimations were not used for meters that were accessible to WAF officers.

"WAF does not estimate for meters that are accessible and are operating normally, as they are physically read by our meter readers on a quarterly basis and billed accordingly. However, WAF, under its Water Supply By-Laws, can estimate readings for ceased meters.

"In cases where our meter readers are not able to access meters, we issue our calling cards whereby the customer can take the reading and submit the readings to us via email or phone call. Such cases are when the gates are locked and the customer has ferocious dogs around the property."