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BWS and BEL end payment alliance amid cyber-attack concerns

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 20, 2023

For years, the people of Belize have enjoyed the convenience of paying their electricity and water bills at a single office. However, BWS announced on Monday, July 17, through a statement on their Facebook page, the discontinuation of its role as a collection agent for BEL — thus bringing to a halt their long-standing, Joint-Utility Agreement.

“Belize Water Services would like to inform the public that BWS will no longer act as a collection agent for Belize Electricity Limited,” the company stated in the online release. The release goes on to say, “While this transition brings changes to our payment processes, we would like to emphasize that the long-standing positive relationship between BWS and BEL remains unwavering, ensuring that both utilities will continue to work together harmoniously for the betterment of our customers and the communities we serve.”

While the reasons for the discontinuation of the arrangement were not stated in the release, some members of the public have speculated that a cyberattack on BEL that resulted in a security breach which led to the exposure of customer and employee data might have prompted BWS’ decision.

On Tuesday, July 18, BEL held a press conference via Zoom, during which they provided information about the recent cyberattack.

According to BEL’s Chief Executive Officer, John Mencias, a Russian hacking company targeted their IT system, resulting in damage to a few hard drive disks as well as limited exposure of some customer and employee data. As a consequence, the online services for BEL customers were disabled.

“We are unable to provide services online at the moment and, unfortunately, BWS suddenly terminated the joint partnership we had with them. They had indicated before that they would want the partnership to come to an end in August. But we were suddenly informed that it has come to an end, and they have been one of our major collection agents,” explained Mencias.

In response to inquiries about their decision to end the partnership, BWS asserted in a short interview with Amandala that a mutual agreement had been in place regarding the expiration of the long-standing contract. They neither confirmed nor denied that the cyber-attack played a role in their decision to fast- track the planned expiration.

The termination of the arrangement has left many Belizean residents frustrated, particularly those living in distant villages. For years, the convenience of paying utility bills at a single office saved time and effort for customers who had to conduct errands in a nearby town/city. Now, with this option no longer available, residents might face challenges in managing their monthly bills, especially in remote areas.

The cyber-attack on one of Belize’s major and essential industries has raised numerous questions among citizens. The recent hack of a local media house’s email system only adds to the growing concern about cybersecurity in the country.