Water bill outrageITHIEL ADAMS pointing out the meter that was damaged and for which he was charged. (Sharon Harding)
By Sanka Price | Sat, July 07, 2012 - 12:03 AM
WHAT DO YOU DO when you feel you have been treated unfairly?
Obviously, you appeal to a higher authority, such as the police, for justice.
But what can you do when those you think being unfair to you are effectively the investigators, the adjudicators and executioners? And when, to make matters worse, every other agency you turn to for help seems powerless?
That’s the predicament pensioner Ithiel Mackay Adams of Hinds Hill, Cave Hill, St Michael, found himself in when he received a bill for $440.38 cents from the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) in April.
What pushed Adams’ bill to that level was a charge for $409.95 for plumbing work the BWA claimed they had to do on his property following a road traffic accident that damaged his meter two years earlier.
Adams felt it was wrong for the BWA to charge him because the accident had nothing to do with him, so he visited their offices and explained the situation to them.
The BWA officials listened to the octogenarian but were unmoved. They insisted he had to pay. His May bill was for $444.57 with Disconnection Pending proclaimed in bold red letters. Adams swiftly paid that bill but got his niece to write the BWA, arguing his case.
In her letter, the niece explained that on April 4, 2010, an accident occurred in the early hours of the morning, resulting in a car overturning on the embankment in front of Adams’ property and damaging the water meter.
“The police visited the scene of the accident and this can be verified by making a check with them . . . . Based on the facts outlined . . . why should he be made to pay for work done to his water meter when:
1. The damage done was because of a vehicular accident.
2. Why is his meter placed in an area where it is easily accessible and can be damaged by anyone?
3. Why did it take two years after this accident for an invoice to be sent?
4. How can it be fair to ask this pensioner to pay a bill for work done which had nothing at all to do with him and to continue to threaten him with disconnection?”
The niece, a Government employee who requested anonymity, concluded her correspondence by calling on the BWA to fully investigate the matter.
Go to owner
The BWA responded in a letter dated June 6 stating, “ . . . in these circumstances the authority can only bill the customer for the work done, and Mr Adams should seek to pursue the matter of reimbursement with the owner of the vehicle. We advise also that on receipt of your letter, the service was inspected to see if the meter needs to be relocated and it was determined that it is appropriately located and does not need to be moved. The charge is legitimate and cannot be withdrawn as requested.”
His niece immediately sought out the agencies that would normally get involved in these matters, but drew a blank.
The Fair Trading Commission, she said, informed her that the BWA was not under their purview, while the Public Counsel explained that as the authority was removed from under their watch in 2008 they had no authority to intervene with matters involving them.
The only glimmer of hope was offered by Ombudsman Valton Bend. The niece claimed he advised not to pay the bill and promised to write the authority on the matter. Up to press time we were unable to get a comment from Bend.
On June 20, an anxious and frustrated Adams paid the bill in full to avoid being disconnected as he would have no one to get water from. But he is incensed. He contends it is the BWA’s meter and since he cannot touch it in any way, any damage done to it by a third party cannot be his responsibility.
“This is absolute madness. How can I be responsible for their meter unless it was willfully damaged by me,” he asked rhetorically.
“Am I to stand here and guard their meter?” he further queried, also asking if, had the Barbados Light & Power’s pole located just a short distance from the meter been knocked down by the same car, he might have received a bill from them too.
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