On Monday the Auditor General slammed ARMS Ltd for lagging behind by one year on its go-live smart metering installation programme. He also said that the National Audit Office (NAO) “is concerned with the risks being assumed in adopting the big bang approach to go-live.”
The NAO report said that at least 7% of utility bills issued have to be issued again as they are wrong and this remains a concern. NAO said that ARMS Ltd “has failed to implement its own set of Key Performance Indicators designed three years ago and has failed to heed NAO recommendations.
NAO criticised ARMS Ltd for not setting up the Revenue Assurance Unit to detect meter fraud and for allowing abandoned calls to increase at its call centre. NAO also said that ARMS Ltd still has not met self-set targets for online payments and the number of consumers making use of the direct debit facility is still low. NAO said that ARMS Ltd still relies heavily on IBM for system support and the current agreement runs out in 2013 and no action has been taken so far to ensure service continuity.
In January 2010 when Minister Austin Gatt, then responsible for Enemalta and the Water Services Corporation, launched ARMS Ltd. He boasted it would play a central role in “achieving the highest levels of efficiencies in the operations of the two corporations.” He announced that ARMS would provide an excellent customer service for both corporations and set up a “one stop shop” for customers.
Gatt’s ministry proudly announced that the introduction of smart metering made “Malta the 1st Smart Grid Nation”. Sean Barbara, ARMS’ policy and strategy manager, wrote in The Times of Malta (29th July 2009): “The world will be watching closely as Malta begins to test whether an integrated solution for water and electricity will contribute to energy-efficiency targets. In tandem, Malta will be transforming its utility retail service landscape for the years to come.” In the same article he bragged that the new system offered by ARMS would “provide new and better services to their customers… Smart metering technology will allow us to eliminate estimated bills and do away with another inconvenience to our consumers.”
In Berlin, 24 June 2009, Pierre Carabott, Minister Gatt’s advisor, told an ‘IBM Smart cities Forum” how Malta was taking the lead in the world to change its electromechanical billing meters to a smart metering billing system “based on best practices”. He promised that this project would deliver “Consumer empowerment through targeted information and better access; and improved billing services through elimination of estimates, prepayment options and on-line inter-active billing support.” He promised that the new system would deliver a much improved “utility-customer relationship”.
Enough time has passed to assess to what extent government and ARMS have delivered on their promises to provide a superior customer service, the envy of the whole wide world. As tax payers we are footing the bill of this new smart metering project that is going to cost 100 million Euros. There are specific political and administrative responsibilities for the way this very expensive project has been mismanaged.