Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Unfair NWC 'commercial' rates

Published:Monday | November 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

I was first 'introduced' to the National Water Commission (NWC) 'commercial rates' many years ago when I was informed that my medical practice qualifies for commercial rates. In my naïveté, I thought that commercial rates were applied to businesses that used potable water in some manufacturing or other income-generating process. My office only uses water for drinking and sanitary purposes. I (foolishly) asked the woman on the phone (the NWC agent) for the criteria used to charge customers commercial rates.

Her terse responses told me that I annoyed her. She said that any place that has a sign of any kind is charged at commercial rates. I told her that I was wondering if that applied even to, say, premises where only mails were delivered for a business.

And, I went on to ask her if she knew what kind of business I carry out at the address. She retorted, "You should know, sir!" That ended that conversation and, in record time, the commercial rate was applied to the office.

But wait! This commercial rate thing gets worse. I subsequently learnt that anyone who purchases a piece of land and applies for an NWC connection is always charged at the commercial rate until the building is totally completed and inspected by their agent. It does not matter if the land is purchased in the middle of a designated residential neighbourhood. Even if it takes 10 or even 20 years for any construction to be started in the middle of a strict residentially zoned area, the NWC will always apply commercial rates until the construction is completed and inspected by their agent.

And, even when a plan is submitted and approved solely for residential (non-commercial) use by the relevant government authority, the NWC will always apply commercial rates until the construction is completed and inspected by their agent. Constructing a building uses up massive amounts of water, so the NWC bill will easily climb above $20,000 monthly during that time.

Inspection Process

It was explained to me, over the telephone by an NWC agent, that in order to be inspected, the building must have all the fixtures installed and it must be fully painted. I also learnt that, after the inspection, it will take 'some time' for the commercial rates to be stopped and the residential rate applied. I have a friend who had to wait all of 6 months for the transition. When asked about such delays, the generic answer is that, "it must go through a process". I find it strange that there was no 'process' to delay applying the commercial rates, but stopping it obviously requires a variably lengthy process.

In automatically applying commercial rates to people who apply for water for residential use in residential areas, the NWC is sending out the clear message that our zoning laws are ineffective and so are the government bodies set up to protect or enforce them. The NWC is also expressing its distrust of our parish councils and the KSAC when it persists in applying commercial rates to premises where plans for residential construction have been approved.

I can understand charging developers of residential dwellings commercial rates while the construction is in progress. However, the way that I see it, if an applicant is found to be lying about the need for residential water supply, he/she should be back-billed to recover the lost revenue. Assuming that everyone is lying and billing them without any way for them to recover the 'commercial' costs already incurred is blatantly unfair.

In doing all of that and then dragging out the discontinuation of commercial billing after inspecting the fully completed building, the NWC is employing unfair tactics to extract funds from its hapless and helpless customers.

Where are the agencies/bodies acting in our interest? Hello? Is anyone out there listening?

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com