The cancer of not honouring utility bills

Sometime in October last year, my wife and I sold a house of ours in Blantyre. The house was being occupied by a tenant and the premises managed by Ching’onga Estate Agents. When the tenant vacated the house he left electricity and water bills unpaid. The issue dragged until November when ESCOM disconnected the power on a Friday morning. Knowing that the agents would not pay in time before the 3pm deadline to get power restored on the same day and not wanting the new owner to not have power over a weekend, we took out money and paid the outstanding bills and reconnection fees. I applied the pressure on Ching’onga to give me back my money but they kept insisting they could not trace the old tenant. So I told them to give me their money so they can sort out the old tenant issue later, after all they didn’t do their job properly by letting his vacate without settling his bills. In December I managed to get half of the money. The excuse was that the accountant only knew of the electricity bill and not the water one. In January, tired of having to call them every other day, I asked whether they would give me my money or not. After a few minutes of evading the question, they rudely admitted that they would not pay me. End of conversation. Here is a so-called reputable estate agent who demands a percentage of rentals as management fees yet fails to ensure all things are in order. I will not go into the other issues that came about at the transfer of ownership as this entry is dealing with utility bills.

It never ceases to amaze me why people don’t care about paying their utility bills. In 2001 when I occupied a house in Area 18 in Lilongwe, I found the water bill at just over K20,000 and it had been like that for months on end. When I approached the former tenant, he agreed to pay the bill but didn’t. It was only after Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) disconnected the water and I piled the pressure on this guy that he went to LWB and had the water reconnected. It would appear he paid some K8,000 and asked LWB to reconnect. Upon further investigation it transpired that he had connections in the system who would simply reconnect the supply once it was disconnected hence the large bill. two weeks later he finished paying of the remaining K12,000.

Four years later I moved into a compound of houses that had just been built. These new houses had water and electricity but no account numbers were given to us by the developer. I took it upon myself to find the account numbers and start paying the bills. After some five months, while I was on vacation, I saw a contingent of ESCOM employees in the compound, ladders in hand. They had come to disconnect power for outstanding bills. Of the five houses that had been occupied at the time, only ours survived having the power line removed from the roof. Reason? Our neighbours could not be bothered to find their account numbers, let alone pay their bills. Some ended up with very high bills accumulated over the past months that they had to pay in full before supply was restored.

Last year in January I moved out of a house in Area 3 and pinned up the water and electricity bills on the closet door so the owner could take note and change the address. Thirteen months later I still receive the bills, most of the time the bill has aged past 90 days.

There are many other cases of people who don’t bother paying utility bills, some being influential people in society. Ironically these are the very same people who bad mouth utility companies for non-performance. Who do they expect them to perform if they are financially handicapped because they have not been paid for services rendered? Some people never cease to amaze!

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Austin Madinga's Life Unbound