In March this year Solomon Water released a statement to inform the public about the increasing number of faulty prepaid, or Cash Water meters. Solomon Water advised that its objectives in introducing Cash Water meters were twofold. The first was to increase customer awareness of water consumption and, in the process, help customers and their households save on their water expenses. The second objective was to halt the growing amount of arrears on Solomon Water’s books through unpaid water accounts.
The project is loan funded by donors Asian Development Bank and World Bank. Solomon Water has not charged customers the capital cost of the meters and in fact reduced its new connection fee a few years ago to encourage more households to connect to our water supply. Given the strategic significance of the project and Solomon Water’s responsibility to the donors, customers and other stakeholders, Cash Water meters were thoroughly tested in the field prior to rollout. Large scale rollout commenced in mid-2018.
Customer feedback was largely positive when the meters were first deployed. Defects became apparent to Solomon Water management some two years later. In response, Solomon Water engaged a team of field staff to inspect each of the over 5,000 Cash Water meters in the field at the time. A large proportion of the faulty meters were found to have failed with the valve in an ‘open’ position which means that while meters continued to record water consumption, customers were not being charged for water consumed. Solomon Water is currently in the process of disabling the electronic componentry of these faulty meters, essentially ‘converting’ these to post-paid meters. To address the adverse revenue impact of these faulty meters, we are in the process of billing our customers in arrears for the water consumed.
Solomon Water has reported faults to the New Zealand-based supplier of the meters with the objective of being compensated for defective meters. According to the supplier, the faults experienced are unique to the Solomon Islands and have not been observed in many countries where the meters are used. While the factors contributing to meter failures in the Solomon Islands remain unclear to the supplier, they have replaced a number of faulty Cash Water meters with a recently updated version, reported to be more suitable for the operating environment in the Solomon Islands. These are currently being field tested.
Solomon Water continues to believe that there is merit in the concept of pre-paid meters. Besides continuing negotiations with the current supplier for larger scale replacement of faulty meters, Solomon Water management has called internationally for expressions of interest for other brands of pre-paid water meters and suppliers to ensure we identify a brand that is robust, reliable and will serve our customers well in the long run. Responses to our tender have been encouraging and we are currently assessing these.
Solomon Water management regrets the inconvenience experienced by our customers and have been transparent in keeping our Board of Directors, donors, the Solomon Islands Government and our customers informed of the issue. We remain confident in our ability to identify a suitable brand of pre-paid meters for field testing before rollout in early 2022 and expect all customers with faulty pre-paid meters to be prioritized for the new meter.
Please visit www.solomonwater.com.sb or follow Solomon Water on Facebook for more information.