SHORTER government working hours during Ramadan have been cited as one of the factors behind a shock rise in utility bills this summer.
It follows a GDN report on Tuesday, in which people complained of up to seven-fold increases in their June bills, compared to the previous month.
The Electricity and Water Authority (EWA) said shorter working hours meant inspectors were unable to physically inspect all meters during the holy month, which ended on June 14, so estimated bills were issued instead.
It added an inability to access some meters when residents were not home also led to estimated bills being delivered.
“The EWA resorts to estimated readings if it is difficult to reach the owner (or tenant), either because doors are closed or they are out of Bahrain,” it said in a statement to the GDN.
“As the official working time was shorter during Ramadan, meter readers found it difficult to cover all regions in Bahrain.”
The agency also said public holidays disrupted the meter reading cycle, but urged members of the public to report inaccurate estimates as soon as possible to avoid paying massively inflated prices.
“The EWA usually sends an SMS to subscribers informing them about the estimated bill,” it added.
“Consumers are given 24 hours to report an accurate reading, either by calling the service centre, through the EWA website or simply by going to a service centre nearby.”
However, it also warned people to brace for higher bills in summer, when soaring temperatures result in more frequent use of air-conditioning.
“The increasing bills coincide with scorching summer heat, which pushes power consumption up,” it said.
While the EWA statement goes some way to explaining the surprise bill increases in June, it is of little comfort to those already feeling the heat from higher living costs.
The GDN’s Facebook page has been inundated with complaints from people already facing a dramatic increase in utility bills.
“Usually, during the summer, my average bill has been BD50 to BD55 maximum for as long as I can remember,” said 44-year-old Rod Del Rosario, from the Philippines.
“All of a sudden in June it became BD112 with the same consumption.”
He said his landlord contacted the EWA to enquire about the increased charge, but was told a meter reading wasn’t taken because the building was locked.
However, when an inspector was dispatched to read the meter, he came up with exactly the same amount that was estimated.
“Are they telling me they’re fortune tellers, able to predict the amount accurately without checking?” asked Mr Del Rosario, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Mahooz.
“There isn’t a single fils price difference (between the estimated amount and the meter reading).”
He pointed out his bill for last month dropped again to BD53 and urged authorities to review the June prices, particularly after some of his friends had power disconnected because they couldn’t afford it.
“When you are living on a tight budget and divide your income accordingly, but then get ambushed by a huge bill, all you have left to use is your food allowance,” he said.
The surprise increase in June bills came on top of already rising costs of power and water for expatriates, the private sector and Bahrainis with more than one home, for whom utility prices have been increasing on an annual basis since 2016.
In March this year domestic electricity charges rose from 13 fils to 21 fils per unit, while water charges increased from 200 fils to 450 fils per unit.
The rate will increase again on March 1 next year, when the electricity tariff will rise to 29 fils per unit and water will cost 750 fils per unit.
Bangladeshi showroom supervisor Abdus Salam Rubus, 34, said the rising costs of living could force many expats to leave the country.
“We (expats) now pay 21 fils per unit (for power), as opposed to the 3 fils which was subsidised (for everyone before 2016),” he said.
“Our bill used to be BD60 or BD70, but in June it was BD139.
“As of now I’m still able to cover my expenses, but I also need to support my family back in Bangladesh – so it is getting tougher.”
He revealed he originally planned to bring his family to live with him in Bahrain, but could no longer afford to do so. “If nothing remains from my salary after I pay my bills and expenses, it is better to either go back home or to another country for a better income and future,” he added.