SOFIISKA VODA RELIES ON PROMISES
Tseko Genev is among the ten persons in the queue waiting for their water supply bills to be corrected. Inspectors have not checked his water-meter since July. The amount in his invoice has been calculated on the basis of the water consumed in the previous reported period. He got a promise to have the extra paid amount deducted later. However, he has run out of money. Sofiiska Voda (a company established by the United Utilities - International Water Limited consortium in 2000, in which 19% is controlled by the Sofia municipality) assured that customers will be less burdened from next January. A new emergency phone will be launched to replace the two already existing numbers. 976 07 60 will be permanently available for customers calls. However, people in the queue find it hard to believe in these promises. And they decide to complain on a senior level - to the OMONIT municipal company. It was established in 2001 in order to control the activity of the concessioner, Sofiiska Voda, which will exploit water in the capital within 25 years.After a proposal made by OMONIT in early November, the Sofia mayor sanctioned Sofiiska Voda to pay a considerable fine. The company was ordered to pay BGN211,000 because of unsettled liabilities and bad service to the citizens. BGN180,000 of this amount was due to the fact that the company afforded to leave the population of Vladaya district without water from the end of November 2001 till January 8, 2002. It failed to provide alternative water sources, as stipulated by the agreement, explained eng. Peter Pavlov, Head of OMONIT Customer Service Department. The fine was also imposed because of delayed reports and responses to claims of citizens, belated emergency staff and low quality repair works. However, the sanction is unlikely to have a positive effect, Mr. Pavlov says. Earlier, Sofia mayor Stefan Sofiyanski had sanctioned Sofiiska Voda to pay BGN195,000. The faults had been the same. The company had even failed to report the bills of nearly one thousand subscribers who were skipped by the Australian Affinity computer system. In 2001, this system replaced the one used by the former water supply company. The same number of households fail to pay their water bills for a second year now simply because they have not yet been put into the invoice list. As Sofiyanski and Pavlov insisted, Sofiiska Voda agreed not to charge these consumers with interests due for the time they have been skipped. The company also allowed them to pay their bills in parts. 38,644 complaints have been registered by Sofiiska Voda for the past month. 5,355 calls have been missed, which accounts for 12% of all calls. The average age of water-conduits in Sofia is 38 years. In some parts of the capital it even exceeds 50 years. Worn out iron pipes should be replaced by new polyethylene pipes by 2007. Sofiiska Voda has planned to spend USD152MN on this operation.One of the tasks that the company fulfilled within the deadlines is the general repair of the Beli Iskar dam which ended in November. BGN15MN were spent on the repair works. Soon afterwards it became clear that, in order to compensate this investment, the concessioner might raise the price of water after December 31. Sofiiska Voda, OMONIT and representatives of the Sofia municipality have been discussing for a week how to avoid this manoeuvre.43 complaints have been submitted to OMONIT in the past week alone. The average number of complaints usually amounts to 150 every month. Complaints are even submitted to the Sofia municipality and to the mayor Sofiyanski. The managers of Sofiiska Voda promise they will stick to the investment programme in 2003. But people do not believe in promises anymore, says eng. Peter Pavlov and takes another complaint.