By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Water & Sewerage Corporation gave $5.9 million back to consumers over 21 months, while one delinquent customer “blocked meter access” with concrete to enjoy uninterrupted supply for 20 years.
The Ernst & Young (EY) forensic accounting probe into the Corporation’s activities highlighted what it described as “a number of areas with inadequate controls” when it came to billing customers and collecting revenues.
Based on information supplied by Bradley Darville, the Government-owned corporation’s senior manager of business operations, EY found that it returned a net $5.871 million to customers during the period January 1, 2016 to October 17, 2017 as a result of some 24,271 account “adjustments”.
This, according to the report recently tabled in Parliament, represented the difference between $8.336 million in credit adjustments and $2.466 million of the debit variety.
“EY observed a number of areas with inadequate controls,” the report said of the Corporation’s revenue and billing procedures. “Should a meter be unable to be accessed, then an estimate will be used based on previous billings.
“If a reading cannot be taken for two consecutive quarters then extra measures will be taken, such as disconnection notifications. We were advised that it is common that customers now secure their properties which prevents access to the meter. In these circumstances, customers are allowed to submit pictures with the meter reading.”
The report added that “there is no limit to the value” by which an incorrect meter reading can be adjusted by the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s billing team, with EY finding that alterations as high as $1.32 million for a single customer.
Concerns were also expressed to the auditors that delinquent customers can be reconnected “illegally” as a result of multiple persons having access to meter keys. “Water & Sewerage Corporation have since introduced a second lock that is only accessible by a limited number of people,” EY found.
“However, staff still feel this is a high risk area. We were informed that the only way to monitor for illegal reconnections would be when the quarterly readings are completed.... Miya Bahamas were previously responsible for removing meters if no payment had been made within one year. When this process began, Water & Sewerage Corporation discovered that a number of people were stealing water or noticed a number of leaks.”
Meter removal was subsequently outsourced to other companies, but there were also fears among Water & Sewerage Corporation personnel that accounts scheduled for disconnection “could be manually removed from the list or not completed”.
“We were advised of a previous case where a meter was not disconnected and the customer blocked access to the meter with concrete, continuing their supply for approximately 20 years,” EY said. “We have not been advised of any recent cases similar to this in nature.”
The accounting firm added that Water & Sewerage Corporation files often “lacked substantiating evidence”, such as independent plumber reports, to support write-offs, rebates and other account adjustments.
During the 21 months reviewed by EY, the Water & Sewerage Corporation gave leak rebates totalling $1.295 million and reversed just $24,227.
And there was “a lack of adequate approval matrix for incorrect meter readings, which may increase the risk of exploitation by junior staff”.
“These adjustments did not require any approvals from senior levels of staff or the executive team,” the EY report said of altered meter readings. “They were completed by the billings department and approved by the team leader. A work order was simply created and bills adjusted based on the outcome of the additional work performed.”