Hassan Shah is the Managing Director of Male’ Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC). We sat down with him to get an insight into MWSC’s projects and their operations during the pandemic.
The pandemic has affected society as a whole. What challenges have COVID-19 brought to the utility sector in Maldives? How did you address these challenges?
The pandemic has affected the whole world and resulted in great difficulties. As the Maldives declared a public health emergency in March, the first thing we prioritized was the safety of our workers and customers. Then, we looked into how we can help them as CSR works. As such, MWSC provided every household with 1-tonne water for free as frequent use of water for cleanliness lead to high water bills.
We identified high-risk workers and assigned them to work from home. High-risk workers at front office were also changed to back desk. I can say that MWSC is one of the most distant companies from COVID19 and the results of the initiatives taken by us turned out to be a success. The workforce was divided into two teams so that even if one member gets positive and has to go into isolation, the operations of the company continues to run smoothly. Since we are a utility company, it is important not to let interruptions take place in operations. Our workers also had to go into lockdown inside the factory. The team worked extremely hard and made big sacrifices.
Can you tell us about the current projects underway by MWSC?
I believe that MWSC plays a significant role in fulfilling President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s vow of providing water and sewage service to all islands in the Maldives. Currently, physical works have commenced in islands including LH. Kurendhoo, N. Kudafari, N. Maalhedhoo, B. Goidhoo, R. Kinolhas and A.A Rasdhoo. Further, we are also completing defect liability period works and going forward in high speed. We’re trying to finish the works quickly and handover islands to the government. Then, the government will hand it over to a utility service provider. Even now, one of the teams is currently in Kurendhoo for commissioning test and as far as I’m informed, it was a success. We also have good news that for the 4 OFID islands we bid, we received a notification award letter. These days, we are facing a dollar shortage and these projects are in dollars as well; they are over USD 14 million. With this, we got the green light that we can award water and sewerage services for these 4 islands.
MWSC too has switched to digital platforms. What would you say were the biggest challenge with this move?
One of the biggest factors was that customers were not familiar with it. We greatly promoted using the mobile app. Through the app, customers will be able to generate the bill and pay for it. However, we faced several issues to which we found solutions from time to time. Another problem was that we had to close the front desk and customers faced difficulties because they couldn’t come to the office now. Although we encouraged payments and application online, we had faced difficulties in delivering and sorting out including billing. One thing was that some people paid online but the payment slip needs to be sent to the portal or we won’t know who and why they made the payment. As such MVR 3 million payments were made but we are filtering it and have lowered it to half a million.
MWSC stepped up to establish hand washing stations around Male’ in the face of the pandemic under your CSR efforts. Could you tell us a bit about this and the other CSR efforts undertaken by MWSC?
Then, we did every action requested by the government as CSR. With the request of Male’ City Council, at the local market area, we have established handwashing stations. And after the Tourism Ministry approached us, we also sent our experienced team members to COVID19 facilities and provided water and sewerage services to these places as well.
What more campaigns or initiatives can we expect to see by MWSC in the future?
The whole world is facing an economic downturn and so is our government. Due to this, certain government projects have been delayed. Our aim is to play a big role in the projects that the Planning Ministry has opened for bidding under contract and finance. Planning Ministry opened bidding for 11 islands under contract and finance and MWSC is among 4 companies that submitted bidding. From those 11 islands, MWSC offered the lowest bid in 4 islands. Further, there are 35 islands the government wants to provide water and sewerage services under contract and finance. Although all the islands might not be awarded to us, MWSC aims to get a big portion of these projects.
One of the biggest projects carried out by us in the future would be awareness campaigns for customers. Customers need to be made aware of substances that should not be released into the sewerage system. We have presented this issue to the city council as well. Another issue is the increase in the water bill. There’s no way we can change the water bills. There’s nothing MWSC will gain by charging high bills. Even if human error is there, we can adjust it.