Dhaka WASA's incompetence leads to water tariff hike

Dhaka WASA building
Prothom Alo File Photo

A total of 20 per cent of the daily volume of water produced by Dhaka WASA (Water Supply and Sewerage Authority) does not reach the customers. This is officially known as ‘system loss’. Dhaka WASA would not have to increase the water tariff every year if they could avert system loss.

The daily demand for water in Dhaka city is around 2.5 billion litres while the Dhaka WASA claims to produce 2.6 billion litres daily. Of the total amount of water produced, 520 million litres or 20 per cent does not reach the customers due to system loss. As a result, the water deficiency persists.

Dhaka WASA collected Tk 12.01 billion as bills from customers last fiscal year. Taking this into consideration, the financial cost of 20 per cent system loss amounts to over Tk 2.4 billion. Dhaka WASA is planning to increase the water tariff again by 20 per cent from next 1 July.

Citizen’s bodies and urban planners think the presence of system loss of over 5 per cent in any organisation is proof of its incompetence and mismanagement. The Dhaka WASA is trying to share its burden of mismanagement and irregularities with the customers, they alleged.

They think what Dhaka WASA terms as system loss is basically ‘theft’. Unscrupulous officials of the organisation are engaged with corruption through giving illegal connection of water supply.

Several officials of Dhaka WASA, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that the major reasons of system loss include faulty supply lines and illegal connection. The organisation has taken initiative to bring the whole Dhaka under ‘District Meter Area (DMA)’ to decrease system loss. But the project is moving at a snail’s pace. When DMA will be introduced, all the information on water production and usage would be available automatically which would decrease corruption.

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Dhaka WASA has increase tariff on 14 occasions in 13 years after Awami League (AL) government came to power in 2009. The organisation increased the price by 31 per cent in last two years amidst coronavirus pandemic. The Dhaka WASA is now giving many logics to increase water prices once again but they are trying not to hide the issue of system loss.

Managing director of Dhaka WASA Taqsem A Khan at an event on 9 February said, there is a huge gap between water production cost and selling price. The government gives Tk 10 subsidy against every 1,000 litres of water. No organisation can operate on subsidies and so Dhaka WASA must attain self-sufficiency by tariff hike.

Dhaka WASA MD Taqsem A Khan
File photo

According to audit report of 2020-21 fiscal year, Dhaka WASA collected Tk 15.92 billion as water and sewerage bills. Earning from water bill is Tk 12.01 billion and rest was sewerage bill. The Dhaka WASA earned a total of over Tk 496.4 million (49 crore 64 lac) in 2020-21 fiscal year. At the year end, the accumulated profit of Dhaka WASA stands at Tk 8.92 billion.

Bangladesh Institute of Planners’ former president professor Akter Mahmud thinks the proposal to hike water prices is illogical.

He told Prothom Alo that the Dhaka WASA officials are increasing water tariff and people’s sufferings only the for sake of their own interests.

Ambiguity over water production cost

Taqsem A Khan, during the 9 February programme at WASA building, said the Dhaka WASA's production cost per 1000 litre water is Tk 25 and the selling price is Tk 15.

Several officials, however, think the production cost is not that much. Cost of production of water treated from surface water is Tk 25. These are 35 per cent of the total water supplied by Dhaka WASA. Rest of 65 per cent water produced by Dhaka WASA is collected from deep tube well or underground sources.

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Taqsem was asked what the average price of surface and underground water is. He replied that it’s a complex task to find out the exact figure but the production cost would be Tk 21-22 while taking both underground and surface water into consideration.

But WASA officials said the average production cost of surface and deep tube well water is less than Tk 20 and it is not true that the subsidy against 1000 litres of water is Tk 10.

Water tafiff is most in Dhaka WASA

In comparison with Chattogram, Rajshahi and Khulna WASA, water price of Dhaka WASA is almost double. Dhaka WASA sells per unit (1000 litre) of water at Tk 15.28 for domestic use and Tk 42 for commercial use while Khulna WASA’s rates are Tk 8.98 and Tk 14 respectively, Chattogram WASA’s rates are Tk 13.02 and Tk 31.82 and Rajshahi WASA’s rates are Tk 6.81 and 13.62 respectively.

Almost 100 per cent water of Rajshahi WASA is collected from deep tube wells. Rajshahi WASA sources said the production cost of per unit water in Rajshahi WASA is around Tk 9.

Although Dhaka WASA has been increasing the price of water every year, it is not drinkable before purifying through boiling. Mizanur Rahman, a resident of the Jurain area in the capital, came to Dhaka WASA along with his family with a bottle of water, a jug, limes and a packet of sugar to make the MD realise the quality of the water WASA provides. However, he couldn’t meet the MD that day.

Asked about the new proposal to increase the price of water, he said, “The WASA has been raising the price of water every year which is not drinkable. The WASA should focus more on the quality of the water they provide. People nowadays do not protest in fear. Therefore, they can impose the burden of their expenses on the consumers quite easily.”

In 2019, Transparency International Bangladesh published a report titled “Dhaka Wasa: Challenges of Good Governance and Way Forward” regarding the discrepancies and corruption within Dhaka WASA and the shortcomings in their customer service.

It said that Dhaka WASA had failed to supply drinkable water through pipelines. Some 91 per cent of the consumers drink the water supplied by the WASA after boiling. The gas needed to boil the water costs Tk 3.22 billion every year.

Projects with loan money without benefit

The expenditure of Dhaka WASA is increasing due to the procrastination in implementing the projects. Most of the projects are funded by foreign loans. And the burden of these loans is being imposed on the people. On the other hand, the benefits of these loan projects are not being fully realised. A water treatment plant was constructed at a cost of Tk 36.70 billion to supply water from the Padma river to the capital. But the company has not been able to set up a supply line to bring water from the treatment plant to the capital. Therefore, about 50 per cent of the plant’s capacity has remained unused for more than two years.

The Chinese government has provided Tk 25 billion as loan for the Padma-Jashaldia Water Treatment Plant project. Seeking anonymity, an official of Dhaka WASA said, “Everyone has already got their commissions from the water supply project. However, the loan instalments are being paid by the people’s money.”

Controversy over MD’s salary and special stimulus for employees

Taqsem A Khan was appointed as MD of WASA in October 2009. Since then, his salary and allowances have increased by 421 per cent. At present, he gets Tk 625,000 as salary every month. Such a high amount of salary for a MD of an organisation which runs by begging from the government has raised questions even among the employees of the WASA.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, several officials of WASA said the chairman of the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), Bangladesh Biman, Petrobangla and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation are additional secretaries. The importance and management of these organisations is no less than that of WASA. The monthly salary allowance of an additional secretary is around Tk 100,000, while the salary of Dhaka WASA MD is about Tk 700,000. With the appointment of an additional secretary to the post of MD, it seems possible to save Tk 7 million a year.

Last year, money equal to four basic salaries of all the officials and employees of Dhaka WASA recruited on permanent, contractual and ad-hoc basis was given as special reward. Dhaka WASA has been giving such stimulus to its workers every year. Besides, four stimuli a year for the workers of an organisation which run on subsidies provided by the government has also raised questions.

Recommendations from ACC ignored

The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) identified the source of irregularities and corruption in 11 sectors of Dhaka WASA in their annual report of 2019. The official team of ACC prepared this report after investigation.

It said the WASA is mired in discrepancies and corruption including procrastination in the implementation of the projects, not working as per the design, abnormal extension of project duration and expenditure. The project director, project implementation engineers and WASA management authorities are being involved in these.

The ACC report also highlighted the corruption in the selection of consultants and contractors for the WASA projects. The ACC placed a 12-point recommendation including formation of a monitoring team to prevent irregularities, corruption and waste of money in the ongoing WASA projects. However, the Dhaka WASA authorities just ignored these recommendations.

Golam Rahman, president of Consumers Association of Bangladesh, told Prothom Alo, “WASA is not being able to provide safe drinking water in many cases. The WASA authorities want to impose the responsibilities of their mismanagement, corruption and unnecessary expenses on the consumers. The liability of procrastination in the implementation of the project and increased expenses lies with the top officials of WASA. They should be held accountable for this."