QCOSTARICA – Yamileth Astorga Espineta, who as of Monday, became former president of Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA) – water and sewers utility, acknowledged in her letter of resignation to President Carlos Alvarado, that the blunders in the water bills led to her departure.
According to her, there was an “understandable and worrying discomfort” from some 26,000 of the 700,000 AyA users, who were affected by billing errors for services in critical months of the pandemic.
Astorga’s resignation was confirmed by President Alvarado.
While taking part in the graduation ceremony for Coast Guard offices in Limon, the president announced that the executive presidency of the AyA will be occupied by Tomás Martínez, who currently serves as head of the National Institute of Housing and Urbanism (INVU).
In the seven-page letter that Astorga delivered to the president, the former official indicates that her departure from office is also related to information that she considered “poorly founded and distorted”, about the work of the institution she directed.
She even spoke of a systematic attack on social networks by people “who seemed to have the sole objective of discrediting the great work that all the officials of the Institution have been doing for many years.”
“This is how our institution has suffered in this very special period a kind of negative Pygmalion effect that has affected not only the corporate image, but also created tension between the Central Government with other institutions of the State and of Costa Rican society
The Pygmalion effect, in psychology and pedagogy, refers to the influence that someone’s belief can have on the performance of another individual.
Between March and June of this year, AyA incurred a series of inaccuracies in the billing of water consumption in homes. This led to thousands of complaints that forced the company to make corrections to the amounts billed, which in many cases was seven to ten times normal billing, to amounts of hundreds of thousands of colones and in some cases, even millions of colones.
According to the explanations given by the AyA, the increase in the amounts collected in May was due to an undetected increase in water consumption during the previous two months.
Said increase in the demand, it said, would not have been received or collected before because the utility decided to suspend the reading of meters in March and April, to avoid exposing its staff to COVID-19 infections.
Therefore, from March 20 to mid-May, the utility decided to calculate its subscribers’ bills based on historical consumption records.
As of May, when the meter reading was reactivated, this review showed the actual water consumption during March and April, and the entity collected the difference in the May bill.
This decision generated thousands of complaints, including a complaint filed by Casa Presidencial (Government House) was also a victim of outrageous billing practice.
In mid-June, the Public Services Regulatory Authority (Aresep) confirmed that AyA had received some 6,000 complaints for this collection mechanism. Of that number, 2,000 remained unattended by November, so the Authority gave the utility two months to resolve them.
The Authority pointed out, since June, that the complaints exceeded the Institute’s capacity to deal with them by email, calls or online.
It also indicated that AyA admitted that the billing problem originated precisely when it tried to estimate and then collect the difference between the last meter reading and the previous period in which the face-to-face consumption review was not carried out.
The regulatory body determined that the calculation mechanism used caused that the actual consumption in excess of March and April was fully charged in the last May bill, “instead of being distributed among the estimated cycles or periods, as technically corresponds.”
In her letter this Monday, Astorga affirms that she had been facing all the attacks and “even the public insults that have occurred in the last seven months”.
“However, I believe that for the health of the country, the Government and myself, the time has come to irrevocably present my resignation to the position in which you so honorably reconfirmed me at the beginning of your administration,” she said in your letter to the president.
Editor’s note: This writer was one of the victims of the AyA practice it called an error but has yet to fix. In the case of yours truly, the amount of the bill in question was never reduced, rather pushed back to payment by December 31, 2020. A new complaint will be filed this week.