*** ----> Electricity, water bills to drop for expats during Bahrain winter | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Electricity, water bills to drop for expats during Bahrain winter

TDT | Manama

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Summer is about to wind down in the coming days, and a relatively mild winter is finally coming! Expatriates, who make up 52.6 percent of the population and play a key role in the development of the national economy, can now heave a collective sigh of relief – although only temporarily!

Power bills are expected to go down starting this month until March next year.

Every hot summer months – from April to October – expatriates all have the same issue and concern: extremely high electricity and water bills!

This year is no exception. The issue has caused uproar among the expat population of 789,273 (as of March 2020), as it comes at a time when many have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Utility bills are a significant part of every household’s monthly budget. And as always, they are at their highest during the summer months due to the increased use of air conditioners and water, making it a struggle for many expatriates.

Since 2016, when gradual increases in electricity and water consumption rates were introduced as part of austerity measures adopted by the government to offset a drop in oil revenues and address a large budget deficit, the expatriates have already been badly affected.

Under current rules, expats are charged 29 fils per unit for electricity and 750 fils per unit for water.

Bahrainis pay 3 fils per unit for electricity under 3,000 units, increasing to 9 fils for anything above this. This means expats pay a massive 866 per cent more than Bahrainis.

Prior to the four-year phased increases in rates, which ended in March last year, both expats and Bahrainis alike paid 3 fils per unit.

The abnormally high utility bills are causing sizeable burden to low-income expats.

With meat, fuel, water and power subsidies all being slashed since 2015, along with the introduction of a new sin tax on cigarettes and fizzy drinks in December 2017, the cost of living has increased. Utility bills have also been subject to VAT of five per cent since January 1 last year.

This has added to the expats’ burden. In Bahrain, the majority of expatriates fall into the middle to lower income bracket.

Absurdly high utility bills are weighing down on them, as many are unable to cope with the rising costs. Many of them struggle to pay bills and they leave Bahrain for good as their entire salary is just going towards expenses.

For other expatriates, especially those with families, it is unreasonable to pay utility costs that almost amount to the rent, so they are forced to send their families home.

Expenses are soaring but salaries remain the same – there is no increase, in fact – and in some sectors many employers do not pay salaries on time.

Statistics from the General Organisation for Social Insurance (GOSI) have revealed that 73% of the expat population earns less than 200 Bahraini Dinars per month.

Compounding their miseries, in this time of pandemic, may expats have experienced salary cuts and others suspension from work without pay.

This is making the situation worse for expatriates who send money to their families back home.

Many are forced to move into shared accommodation because they are struggling to meet rising expenses, foremost of which is the soaring electricity and water bill.

Tenants, bachelors, couples and large families, who live in apartment buildings that share electricity and water bills also complain about what they describe as an unfair system.

In some cases, expats are paying utility bills that are even higher than their monthly rent.

However, majority of expatriates, upon receiving exaggerated electricity and water bills, have chosen to just suffer silently.

This year, the government had decided to pay the electricity and water bills of all residents, including expats, for three months beginning April with the amount not exceeding the bills for the same period last year, to offset the effects of the coronavirus.

Indeed, summer is almost over so expatriates can make the most of the coming months until March when utility bills are still “affordable”.