City of Harare (CoH) recently revealed that it is owed a combined total of $253,892,806 by ratepayers as at May 2014. City management is caught in a downward spiral as financial constraints hamper service delivery, and residents refuse to pay for poor services.
Industry and commerce are the biggest defaulters owing $130 million, with residents owing $105 million and government $16 million. Satellite towns including Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth owe CoH a combined $3.4 million. Of the total debt $92 million is owed for water.
Council has started taking measures to collect the outstanding debts which include issuing final demands to defaulters, issuing summons and transferring debts to external lawyers. Water disconnections are also being used to compel payment of outstanding water bills.
In a statement, the City’s corporate communications manager Leslie Gwindi said that residents should settle their outstanding bills to avoid losing their properties.
“If all rate payers would honour their obligations there would be an improvement in service delivery i.e. waste management, road maintenance and efficient water supply to residences. The city requires fuel on a daily basis to be able to collect garbage and to do maintenance work,” said Gwindi.
Gwindi also revealed that the City is on average collecting US$11 million every month when at least US$24 million is billed. “Because of the current economic hardships many people have failed to pay their bills on time. There are some residents who have not paid a single cent towards their bills since July 2013…such residents risk losing their property,” Gwindi warned.
However, residents’ organisations such as Harare Residents Trust (HRT) last month called for the boycotting of payments to the City, demanding transparency in the management of council funds, with particular emphasis on the department of water.
The City’s water department is currently under scrutiny for diverting money from the $144 million water rehabilitation loan to purchase luxury vehicles whose number is still a mystery, though likely falling between 25 and 50, with a value of around $2 million.
In a widely circulated statement, Shumba addressed residents saying, “To stop this arrogant and unaccountable behaviour at the Harare Town House, you are being asked to seriously consider stopping payments for all services by the CoH from end of June to August 2014. This forces them to be accountable and transparent in the utilisation of our funds –loans, rates and grants.”
An Eastlea resident who speaking on condition of anonymity said that he refuses to pay council water bills since he does not receive any water.
“I have to buy water from private suppliers every month because there is no council water reaching me. How can I pay council for non-existent services and then have to pay a private supplier as well? If council disconnect me it will not have any impact on my life,” he said.
These sentiments were also echoed by Malvern Bute from Mabvuku who said that council should put its house in order first before taking action to recover debts.
“How can they expect us to pay our bills when they are not providing the services we require? First they should provide adequate services then they can talk about us not paying our bills,” fumed Bute.