City of Harare last month set debt collectors on defaulters in an effort to recover more than $500 million it is owed by residents, businesses, and government in unpaid rates. Now council faces accusations of bias in its targeting of poor residents, and improper use of a third party in its debt collection.
In the past, Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni and the media have reported on so-called “untouchables” — residents with political power or connection who are able to dodge rates and ZESA payments.
Training and publications officer for Harare Residents Trust (HRT), Sharon Magodyo, said council is owed a lot of money by bigwigs and private companies, but go for the easy wins, being the lowliest of properties to rake in debt.
“Why is the council protecting them? Residents are asking on what is the assurance that if we pay off our debts, council will be able to supply adequate services because with the little council is receiving, service delivery is deteriorating. The city council is not explaining how they are targeting the residents who owe them. In some instances, a resident who owes council $100 is being given a final demand letter compared with one who owes $3,000,” said Magodyo.
Resident, Simioni Kabvura (52), from Mbare concurred with Magodyo saying council was busy chasing after small time defaulters while there were some residents in affluent suburbs who owed council much more.
“Council is not fair in its debt collection. It seems they are always chasing after defaulters in high-density suburbs, leaving out those in affluent suburbs who owe the council much more. Council should make sure it collects debts from all defaulters, including bigwigs, government institutions, and corporates,” said Kabvura.
When contacted for a comment, Harare’s Acting Corporate Communications Manager, Michael Chideme, said council has always been impartial in its collection of debts.
“We are satisfied with the response from residents who want to settle their bills. It is not true that we are only pursuing defaulters in high-density suburbs, as we are targeting everybody who owes council,” said Chideme.
In the struggle to collect money from residents battling against severe economic pressure, City of Harare has controversially resorted to employing a third party to collect overdue rates.
Wellcash Debt Collectors have a huge portfolio of clients, and now City of Harare is among their biggest.
The move has, however, been challenged in the High Court by Harare woman, Sheila Chibaka of Glenview Lodge.
Chibaka received a 48-hour ultimatum from Wellcash who threatened to attach her property and allegedly even threatened civil imprisonment.
In her application, Chibika argued that the issuing out of summons by debt collectors on behalf of creditors was a violation of Section 9 (2) (b) of the Legal Practitioners Act which reads: “Subject to any other law, no person other than a registered legal practitioner who is in possession of a valid practising certificate issued to him shall — (b) For, or in expectation of any fee, commission, gain or reward in any way instruct, or assist any other person to sue out or threaten to sue out any summons or process or to commence, carry on or defend any action, suit or other proceeding in any court of civil or criminal jurisdiction.”