If the intention of government in extending the provision of potable water to the doorstep of the rural folk is to alleviate their plight and better their lot, then that laudable aim is fast being defeated. Some of the rural customers have been rendered worse off.
In fact, some are now cursing their stars for connecting to the lines of the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), not because their taps are not flowing, but because some of the company's metre-readers and other staff are said to be taking advantage of the general ignorance of rural dwellers and milking them dry with bills, some of which are not only outrageous, but suspicious in every way; thereby painting the company black.
At a time debate rages over whether water delivery should be privatized or not, nothing can be more disheartening.
For instance, at Big-Ada in the Dangme East District of the Greater Accra region, a number of people this reporter interacted with , say they have, at one point in time, been 'cheated or bullied' by GWCL staff but they could not complain because they do not understand the billing system.
Narrating her pathetic story to The Chronicle in her house recently, a 70-year old woman, Madam Bernice B. Boye-Doe (popularly known as 'Koko'), said three years ago, when she heard that her community was to enjoy pipe-borne water, she jumped for joy and was the first to apply for connection. Today, her joy had been replaced with tears.
"Initially, my bills were less than ¢50,000 per month but today, with the same facilities and outlets in my house, GWCL bills me over ¢2.5 million a month. Which villager will consume this outrageous volume of 452,000 litres of water in one month?" she enquired.
Showing her bills to the paper, Koko, customer number 48-20-0045 who uses a domestic type of metre (M) with number 99 0009059, said in August last year, her bill stood at ¢72,100. Six months later, (March 2004), she was asked to pay what looked like an accumulated bill of ¢1,011,460, representing 210,000 litres.
Then, just the following month (April), a new consumption figure of 452,000 litres was preferred against her, requesting another ¢2,542,777.48 from her. This stood her current bills at over ¢3million. She has since been disconnected.
Apart from the strangeness of the bill, particularly between March and April this year, The Chronicle noticed an element of what it suspected to be fraudulent in the official receipts given to the old lady.
For instance, when on Thursday, June3, this year, she squeezed some ¢300,000 from God knew where to offset part of the debt, the cashier boldly indicated on the illiterate old woman's receipt that the sum was 'part payment for April 2003', at a time she had no arrears to pay.
More questionable in the whole deal is the fact that unlike other receipts which were stamped with the Accra Main Office stamp, indicating that the paid sums were going into account number 28760027 of the company, this controversial one bore the inscription 'REMITTANCE A/C.
She said she had paid over ¢1.2million in similar installments, yet the 'mountain' of debt never reduced even though she had been disconnected.
Other consumers in town, who suffered similar fate said they would rather go for the untreated river Volta at even the risk of contracting water-borne diseases than keep sitting under the yoke of what they called 'GWCL exploitation'.
When The Chronicle visited the district offices of GWCL, all the staff this reporter spoke declined comment except one who said: "Please, I can't say anything. The big people are not around. Go and come another time."
Even though all of them confirmed they knew Madam Boye-Doe, none would comment despite the fact that the paper presented all the necessary bills and receipts for inspection.
Several attempts since then to contact the district manager, Mr. Baidoo, and commercial officer, Mr. Botchway, failed as the official telephone kept ringing without response. Not even the local metre-reader, Francis Alordzinu, who could have cleared the air, could be traced.
According to their offices at Ho and Tema, there ws a c;ear case of fraudulent deal in the billing system being reported on.
"If the accumulated consumption for six months was ¢210,000 and that had been billed, why should the following month alone read more than double the consumption for six months?
Even if that was what the metre indicated, the reader should have known that it was not realistic," one officer observed.
Another officer noted that it was serious for a cashier to indicate that monies paid in June this year were meant for April last year (14 months ago) while the consumer was not owing, and added that this could lead to grave legal consequences. "Yes, the consumer can sue the company, and you can guess the implications," he hinted.
But assuming all these are genuine human errors in the company's operating system, the question many people are asking is why the poor consumer in the village is usually the victim, and who is to blame if people decide to go back to taking untreated water instead of the potable one at their doorstep.