Garbage fees foul up

Bills generated by the system used
to charge for garbage collection in the Cayman Islands
resulted in hundreds of instances of double billing as well as refunds to customers
for bills they had never paid.

The details of problems with the
Department of Environment Health’s EVMAS billing system are revealed in an
internal audit, the release of which was delayed for at least a year. According
to auditors, the department management wasn’t able to respond to their findings
in a timely manner.

“Based on our review of the EVMAS
billing system, internal audit concludes that the validity of the information
generated by the system cannot be relied upon,” stated the audit report, which
was completed in August. The review of the garbage billing system covered the
period between July 2007 and December 2008.

This year there have been major
changes in the way the government charges and collects garbage fees.

First, semi-annual collection fees
are no longer charged to single family homes.

Residential properties like condos
or large apartment complexes that are required to have a large commercial waste
container are also charged for the servicing of that container.

Commercial properties also pay for
their waste container’s servicing and are not billed by the square foot or
according to the number of units in the respective complex.

Any customers who still have
overdue bills prior to this year are still expected to pay.

The changes to the Department of
Environmental Health’s billing process were made after the audit showed that
while the EVMAS system did calculate fees properly per transaction, there were
more than 700 duplicate customer records noted by auditors.

“The original cause of the
duplications could not be determined,” auditors noted.

“The logic of the automated billing
programme assumes that these base customer and property records are valid,
complete and accurate. If not, invoices and reports generated will be unreliable.”

Auditors noted that “significant
effort” would be required to correct the base billing data, but they stated
that the environmental health managers seemed willing to take on the task.

Because of the duplicate billing
records, there were nearly three dozen cases identified in which a customer had
been billed twice for the same services at the same location. Auditors provided
the duplicate lists to environmental health finance officers for further
review.

“These duplicated billings, in
addition to inaccuracy of the financial data, may lead to customer dissatisfaction
and refusal to pay arrears because of the perpetuating errors on their bills,”
auditors stated.

Department officials acknowledged
they had encountered “numerous issues” with duplicated billings and that those
problems were only identified through customer complaints.

“The DEH accounting section…[was]
uncertain how and why these duplications were occurring from a system
standpoint,” the management response to the audit stated.

Eventually, the customer billing
system for garbage collection was changed. A follow-up audit has not yet been
done to determine whether duplicate billing problems still exist.

It wasn’t all bad news for garbage
customers. Auditors also uncovered situations where refunds were made to
garbage customers who never submitted for a bill, or others who were refunded
an amount greater than their entire service payment.

“[Several] refund amounts were
noted for which no original service payment was noted, with the exception of
one transaction where the refund amount was more than the payment,” auditors
wrote. “Further analysis showed that this type of irregularity occurred in
previous periods. However, it could not be determined what series of events led
to these transactions.”

In the case referenced above, the
customer made a CI$215 garbage fee payment and received a refund of CI$562.52.
One customer who paid nothing received a refund of more than CI$1,000.