The stand-off between Harare City Council and residents over the city’s decision to unleash debt collectors on defaulting rate payers continues with residents declaring they would resist the move.
Harare is owed in excess of $700 million by government, residents and businesses.
Of the figure, residents owe the bulk of the amount at $386 million while government’s debt is $21 million with $300 million being commercial debt.
Chitungwiza, a satellite town which enjoys some services from Harare, also owes the city $21 million.
However, council’s attempts to collect the revenue were fruitless, prompting them to take on the services of Well Cash Debt Collectors, who add a 10% collection and legal fee for their work, to be borne by the defaulting ratepayer.
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) took to Facebook in February to condemn the move, labelling it as illegal and improper, and encouraging residents to ignore letters of demand from Wellcash, and hinting that residents who are summoned to court over the matter will have support from HRT.
CoH hit back with a press statement which read in part, “Harare City Council urges all its customers to disregard a social media message, purportedly from the Harare Residents Trust . . . the city regards the message as not only irresponsible but a blatant campaign to derail service delivery and take Harare to prehistoric times.”
The statement went on to call the message from HRT “defeatist, self-serving, and populist”.
Speaking to Harare News, HRT director Precious Shumba said, “We will never be intimidated by these debt collectors and their demands. We are waiting for the day they take the first resident to court and that is when we will settle matters with them.”
“Debt collectors have no grounds to demand 10 percent from debts owed without court orders giving them the grounds to do that.”
Shumba is adamant the city was targeting the “poor and weak” at the expense of the government and the influential who he said were better serviced by the beleaguered authority.
“They are placing more emphasis on debts owed by residents while avoiding the government debt. We know that government departments in Harare, senior government officials and politicians owe the city huge amounts of money to the city but are not pursued.
“They are demanding 10 percent from the same person who has failed to pay and has failed to get the services.”
Shumba said it was an insult to residents for the city to deploy resources to collect debts owed by poor residents when in fact it was paying hefty perks to city executives and still continued to run an inverse balance sheet where wages gobbled the bulk of its revenue.
He further said Harare should not have rushed into taking the punitive route without engaging residents through their councillors and other community engagement platforms.
Shumba also chastised city authorities for allegedly bulldozing through a budget which was devoid of residents’ input and yet expected the same rate payers to comply.
In his response, acting Harare City Council communications manager Michael Chideme said the authority was forced to engage debt collectors after residents had shown little enthusiasm to honour their pledges to clear their debts.
Chideme said with the current scenario, it would seem few compliant residents were carrying the rest on their shoulders.
“Service delivery cannot just come on its own; it can only come through residents paying for the services,” Chideme said.
“The little service that we can manage to render at the moment is through the efforts of a few, which is why you hear people say we are offering little. It is because of those few. Everyone must participate.”
Harare lawyer Tafadzwa Mugabe said while residents were justified in refusing to pay for services they did not enjoy, it was also incumbent upon them to honour their debts in cases where they indeed received the services.
This he said would allow the city to continue discharging its responsibilities.
Mugabe also condemned the 10% fee for debt collection, suggesting that it could be better used in improving service delivery in the city.
He further urged residents to use legal channels to challenge what they felt was a violation of their rights as opposed to bare-knuckle fights with the authorities.