PUC must come clean about meter malfunctions |17 January 2022
The time has come for the Public Utilities Corporation (PUC) to come clean and own up that in certain circumstances both water and electricity meters malfunction. When the malfunction creates a lower meter reading the consumer is happy and usually keeps quiet but the water or electricity supplier quickly goes out to check the meter and in most cases change out the meter. When the meters over run and record a higher than normal reading of consumption the first thing the supplier tells the consumer to do is to check for any leaks at home. So you pay someone to dig up your water pipe from the meter to the house and you check whether your water tank, if you have one, is not overflowing may be the ball cock has gone faulty but then you would see and hear water dripping from the roof, wouldn’t you?
The reason why I know a little bit about the performance and behaviour of water and electric meters is because I did my apprenticeship with Tanganyika Power and Lighting Company and I spent 8 months testing and repairing mainly electric meters but we also tested and repaired water meters. The meters were manufactured by Ferranti in UK and Iskra in Slovenia and while both water and electric meters are known to be very reliable under normal conditions and can still be good after 20 years in service sometimes they do malfunction. The worst thing that can affect a meter is the persistent interruptions in the supply line. When there are irregular and persistent interruptions in the supply line both water and electricity meters malfunction, especially during restrictions periods imposed due to shortages in supply. It has been known for water meters to go backward and some consumers have used magnets to slow down their meters. Meters are as delicate as any measuring instruments.
Most manufacturers recommend that their meters are recalibrated regularly but no supplier in the world go out and recalibrate their meters in the field unless a fault has been reported. Even though there is a meter testing facility in every supplier the facility is used to test meters when they are suspected to be faulty. As a young lad testing meters day after day I dreamt and yearned to visit these two manufacturers in UK and Slovenia and the irony is a few years later after I emigrated to UK I became the Sales Manager for Ferranti Telecommunications and ten years later as CEO of Pacific Payphones in Los Angeles, I visited IskraTelematika because we were importing their payphones into USA and UK. Dreams can coincidently come true.
Coming back home to Seychelles I enjoy a good relationship with PUC as the supplier of both water and electricity to my home and Wellness Clinic in Anse Des Genets and my water and electric bills have been not perfect but reasonably consistent except last November and December of 2021 when we had interruptions in supply twice a day due to water restrictions. My average consumption has been around R70.50 per month because we do not use a lot of water, we do not have a garden to speak of anyway where we need to water the plants. Then out of the blue my bill jumped to R254.00 for the month of November/December without us using any more water than any other day. In fact with the restrictions we were allowed less water so how can less cost more if you get my gist? Several people have mentioned to me that their water bill during the restriction period has also gone up then low and behold PUC puts out advertisements on SBC TV asking people to check for leaks if their water bills appear higher than normal. Is this a coincidence or is PUC avoiding its legal obligation to investigate meter malfunctions? Why did PUC suddenly put out these advertisements?
Any engineer worth his salt will tell you that all measuring instruments malfunction under certain adverse conditions. It is widely known that frequent interruptions in water supply can make water meters give false reading, check it out on the Internet for yourself. Experts believe that frequent and prolonged interruptions like we had during November and December 2021 can cause air pressure to build up in the supply line and the meter can read the air pressure as water flow. Again this is not new, most water engineers know about it especially if you have had the chance to test meters on a test bed. It is ironic however that the supplier always asks the consumer to fit a Pressure Regulator on their premises but this is too late the pressure has already gone through the meter. A Pressure Regulator installed on the premises usually stops the banging and rattling of the pipes which can keep you awake at night because this is when most people are not using water so the pressure builds up and bang, bang, bang you have a symphony of drummers on your premises. As far as I know PUC does not install a Pressure Regulator before every meter therefore in my view the meter is subjected to excessive strain when the water is cut off twice a day which can create malfunction of the meter. Modern meters also have a small in use wheel which can show leakage.
At the end of the day we are the customers and when we complain our complaints must be professionally investigated and a proper response given to us and not put an ad on TV to fob off our complaints as though we are idiots. Some people fail to realise that Seychelles is changing and we, the consumers, are getting smarter and what went on in the old days of autocratic government is no longer valid today and we are not scared to put forward our views without having to march to Victoria or stand with placards on our backs at the clock tower. Our nation’s prosperity lies in an interleaved and intertwined harmonious co-existence accompanied with fairness and openness.
So if your water bill is in excess of what you expected, take the matter up with PUC because it is not a matter of a few extra rupees so let it go and keep quiet, it is a matter of principle and Customer Service. This is what has happened in Seychelles in the past, consumers have not bothered to complain to the authorities and this is why we get poor customer service everywhere we go in Seychelles. If you know your rights stand up for your rights, take your case to court but for goodness sake do not accept poor customer service, demand value for your money, you are the customer and without you the shop or PUC will not exist.
What about our Consumer Protection Agencies, what are they doing, are they still asleep? Have they not received any complaints about PUC meter over runs? Have they not noticed that all of a sudden PUC is putting advertisements on TV asking people to get their water system at home checked for leaks? Why are our consumer protection agencies so quiet when there are so many things wrong with our consumer protection? The other day I bought a tube of glue and it had no English, French or Creole instructions on the tube and packaging so how come someone is allowed to import and sell rubber based glue which could contain toxic poison and no one in Seychelles can read the instructions on how to use it or keep it away from children, inter alia, in any one of our three constitutional languages? What is going on?
For the reader’s information Seychelles Civil Society (SCS) is a registered NGO not funded nor assisted in any way by the government or any business or any individual and we reflect the views of our members especially those who have no way of getting their views heard via the media. We operate a free and open membership meaning we do not have to cower to our members who pay membership fees.
Barry Laine FCIM, FInst SMM, MCMI, MBSCH
Seychelles Civil Society (SCS)
The Wishing Well
Anse Des genets, Mahe, Seychelles