Government the most difficult customer to deal with, says utility CEO


The government is the most difficult customer to deal with, said Gigt Sageme, CEO at ‎Central Region Water Board of Malawi during a roundtable status report session held during the African Utility Week in Cape Town, last week.

Addressing attendees, Sageme said the most difficult challenge his firm is facing is very high non-revenue water as well as collecting revenue from billed customers.

Only 40% of water distributed returns revenue for the utility.

For government institutions willing to pay, it takes up to 18 months for the Central Region Water Board to receive the payments yet private customers pay within 30 to 60 days from billing date.

“Government institutions are not prioritising paying water bills.

“And yet it is difficult to cut supply for them. You cannot cut water for a hospital, worse an army barack,” he said.

67% of the utility’s customers are government institutions.

When asked of what measures his company has, or is planning to, put in place to address the challenge, the CEO said “prepaid [metering] might be the answer.”

However, Sageme said lack of funding to modernise infrastructure is another challenge his utility is facing.

“Funding water projects is affected by politics.”

He highlighted the need for Malawi to de-regulate its water industry to allow companies to operate independently from dictatorial, yet less innovative, government policies.

He blamed poor water services in Malawi to aging infrastructure and lack of frameworks to adequately manage or upgrade existing infrastructure.

Electricity load shedding is also negatively impacting water delivery to consumers. The utility is failing to pump water to consumers residing in service territories far away from reservoirs due to inadequate power.

Some of the points raised during the roundtable discussion to help Malawai address its challenges include:

  • Partnering with the private sector to fund water projects
  • Piloting wind energy to pump water
  • Investing in ICT solutions
  • Constructing more dams to meet growing demand