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Rethink utility bills collection

Social/Physical distancing has a positive impact on controlling the spread of coronavirus. That is why Rwanda and South Africa have declared a nationwide lockdown. Countervailing to this effort, some water and electricity utilities in Africa are violating social/physical distancing measures while undertaking their daily activities. Some of these utilities collect monthly bills through bill collection centres. The customers are travelling to the centres using public transport to pay their bills. Also, the centres can be few in number serving a large number of customers per centre, which results in long queues waiting to pay the bills. Travelling long distances using public transport and waiting for a long time in lines breaks social/physical distancing rules to control the spread of the virus.

To support this point, we take a case reported through a local media concerning electricity bill payment in one of the cities in northern Ethiopia.

The left picture , taken from the screen of a local television channel, shows people in a queue waiting to pay their electricity bills without observing the recommended physical distance between each other.

The media personnel interviewed some people, and the response reflected the concern of the people about being victims of the spread of the disease as a result of not respecting the social/physical distancing criteria while waiting to pay the bills.

The SDGC/A shares the concern of these people and others that have a similar problem in all African cities and recommend the following:

  1. Decentralize the bill collection by increasing the number of collection centres taking into account the proximity of such centres to the majority of the customers;
  2. Organize bill payment through banks and other financial institutions by selecting those banks that have many branches and broad geographical coverage within the cities;
  3. If the above remedial actions will take time, suspend utility bill collection until the situation gets back to normal;
  4. and arrange overdraft facility with the banks to overcome cash shortages of the utilities.

 

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