The Blantyre Water Board (BWB) last year introduced the prepaid water system to its customers. Currently, the Board is still running the project’s “three-month” pilot phase, which started in April 2013. Priscilla Mateyu is BWB’s Public Affairs Officer and in this exclusive interview with Nyasa Time journalist Kimpho Loka, she explains why the Board is still running the trial phase which was supposed to end last July. She also talks about the challenges facing the system and more.
Nyasa Times: Briefly, what is the prepaid water metering system which BWB is implementing in Blantyre city?
BWB: Prepaid metering system is an electronic card management operation that allows customers buy water credit or units in advance. The system uses the smart card to recharge the account, check balance and transfer information from the Board’s server to the meter and vice versa. Depending on the type of prepaid water meter installed, the customer can also check water credit just by a press of a button on the meter. A customer will be given a corresponding IC card when the prepaid water meter has been installed at his or her premises.
Nyasa Times: The pilot project commenced mid last year with 300 clients in the townships of New Naperi and Mudi, when is the Board rolling out the project in all Blantyre City townships, since the initial trial period was three months?
BWB: The Board is still monitoring the performance of the pilot prepaid metering system. In fact it is expecting to install more prepaid water meters in other townships for the same pilot. After which it will begin to roll out to all its customers, but in phases considering the high capital cost of the prepaid water meters and the total number of its customers.
Nyasa Times: For how long will the Board monitor the performance of the pilot prepaid metering system and which other areas are you targeting next?
BWB: It is anticipated that within the next four months we should be through with the performance monitoring. By the way this will be the same time we will be installing the additional prepaid water meters in the other areas of Chatha along Chileka Road where we are targeting about 300 households. However, as regards to rolling out to all customers this is expected as soon as the pilot is completed. The Board would have loved to see a quick switch to prepaid metering system considering the many benefits the system offers to customers, but likely adequate finances will be the main challenge due to the high capital cost of a prepaid water meter. Hence BWB customers should expect that the system will be implemented in phases according to supply areas. In this prepaid metering system, customer care is the main focus. As such it is the plan and intention of the Board that all lessons learnt in this pilot must be incorporated in the actual project to ensure that its customers are satisfied in this new way the Board will be delivering its services.
Nyasa Times: As a Board, have you received any complaints or say any feedback from customers who are on the pilot phase?
BWB: Yes, typical in any new product or services. Advantages of the system are reported by the customers; they feel prepaid metering is convenient since they are able to budget for the water they intend to use in any period, they buy water credit of any amount at any convenient time they have the money, they are no longer being bothered by water disconnection, however in the case water credit has finished the water-flow resumes without paying any water reconnection fees – just purchase water credit, they easily monitor water usage, and control any water misuse or water-pipe leakages.
Nyasa Times: Any challenges?
BWB: Challenges so far faced on the part of the customers: The many complaints were to do with customers’ insufficient familiarization on how the prepaid meter operates – issues to do with checking of water credit balance, water credit consumed and what to do when water-flow has stopped. This was the case despite having left with the customers a prepaid-metering-instruction manual during BWB door-to-door customer sensitization at the start of the project. Other few customers had an attitude that prepaid metering system was expensive since there were to buy water every time as compared to a post-paid where they would use water in any way and bother of the bill at the end of the month.
Nyasa Times: And how do you respond to such concerns?
BWB: We have addressed these challenges through face-to-face discussions with the customers who faced these challenges. A field meeting with some group of customers in New Naperi was also organized where many customer sentiments were mutually discussed. Another challenge has been load-shedding, which affects network at prepaid meter credit sell points, especially when a gen set has a problem. But, now that Escom is commissioning Kapichira Phase II, this may no longer be a problem. But all in all the prepaid metering system has proved to be convenient and cheap on the customers’ part.
Nyasa Times: Exclusive of the customers who are currently on prepaid meters, overall how many customers are still on postpaid metering system?
BWB: We have 37,850 customers who are still on postpaid metering system. It will take time to make sure that all these are transferred onto the prepaid system.
Nyasa Times: Before we end this interview, there are fears that some of BWB employees, precisely meter readers, may lose their jobs if this project is fully implemented since there will not be any job for them, what’s your response to this assertion?
BWB: Technology has its own advantages and disadvantages. The full impact of this technology will be known once the pilot is evaluated and plans are mapped out on how the project is rolled out. Even when the project is fully implemented, there will still be need for staff to monitor the prepaid meters if they are working properly.
Nyasa Times: Anything you may wish to add in conclusion?
BWB: As Blantyre Water Board we strive to provide our valued customers a quality water service. The coming in of the prepaid meters just shows how willing we are in providing that quality service to our customers.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :