By Anush Dashtents
An Italian company that manages Yerevan's water supplies and sewerage network claimed on Friday that there has been a major improvement in the collection of utility fees from local customers. Officials from the A-Utility operator and the Armenian government's department on water resources said the increasing rate of payment enforcement means that they are on track to fulfill their pledge to ensure 24-hour water supplies in the capital in 2004.
Data released by them to reporters show that more than 30 percent of individual and corporate consumers in Yerevan paid their bills last May, up from just 12 percent registered in 2000 when the Italians took over the Soviet-era aging network. A-Utility collected a total of 80 million drams ($140,000) in the first quarter of this year.
A senior company executive, Murad Grigorian, said the improving performance bears out A-Utility's business strategy which has combined administrative measures with a public relations campaign to stress the importance of making payments on time.
The absence of effective bill collection mechanisms coupled with an obsolete infrastructure are the main reason why most city households have running water only several hours a day. A-Utility has complained in the past about lack of administrative levers to ensure the payments.
The government moved to address the problem in January when it decided that all individual consumers must install water meters in their homes before the end of 2003. Legal entities must install the measuring devices in the first half of this year. Officials said the new requirement is the key element of a government drive to improve the extremely difficult situation with water supplies.
Grigorian said A-Utility has already installed thousands of water meters in rural areas around Yerevan to reduce huge losses of drinking water before it reaches the city. Local residents routinely use it for irrigation purposes. "We are putting in place an effective oversight system," he told a news conference.
A-Utility was granted five-year management rights to the city's state-owned water and sewerage company in 2000. It pledged to transform the loss-making network into an efficient company, making use of $30 million in investment funds mostly provided by the World Bank as part of its Community Development project for Armenia.