Drought in Tufulele

Dear Editor,

Just read in your Village Voice about a family in Tufulele whose water has been disconnected.  Seems they were $1,200 in the arrears!  Quite obviously this family  made little, if any, attempt to pay their water bill for months and when it finally reached $1,200, the SWA disconnected it.  

There are two issues here.

The first issue is not paying the water bill.  This family has an obligation to pay its water bill just like everyone else.  If the SWA writes off unpaid bills and doesn’t disconnect water service, I wouldn’t pay my water bill either.  No one would.

If some Good Samaritan comes along and pays this bill, the chances are this family will need to be bailed out yet again by another Good Samaritan a year or two from now.   You can take the monkey out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the monkey.

I work for a charity and we’ve been through this scenario more than once.   We learned our lesson and made a decision not to pay any more water bills.  What we do is encourage those families with disconnections to start paying down their arrears.  When they have faithfully paid down half of their bill on a regular monthly basis, they can approach SWA and ask for a reconnection while pledging to continue paying down the old bill as well as paying off the current one.  

If the family cannot manage to pay down the arrears on a regular monthly basis, it means they would probably never be able to pay down future water bills if somehow they found a way to have their water reconnected.   History always repeats itself.

The next thing they must do is get their act together and get everyone who uses the water (generally it is more than just one family) to cough up every month and shoulder their share of the billings.  The root of many disconnections is generally some members of the family or even, in some cases, others in the community using the tap and not paying their share of the bill and so it goes unpaid.

The second issue here is why does SWA allow billings to go so high?  In a way, this is immoral.  If a customer can’t manage to pay a $100 water bill, how will they manage $1,200?  It’s only common sense. 

I’m not telling SWA how to run their business but they might consider water disconnection as soon as a customer goes into the arrears three months.  This is what the EPC used to do and what Telecom still does for landlines.  There is much more potential for a customer to get reconnected by paying off a 3-month bill instead of a $1,200 bill.   This would be a win-win situation for SWA as well as for their delinquent customer. 

Again, to repeat, allowing a bill to get to the point where there is absolutely no chance that a customer would be able to pay it off by themselves is immoral, not to mention bad business.  

Will a Good Samaritan step forward and help this family pay off their water bill?  Let’s see.  It certainly won’t be me!  On the other hand, maybe the SWA could also be a Good Samaritan by re-examining their billing and disconnection policies.


P.B. Apia

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