A partial list of rates accounts for Ward 18, Borrowdale leaked to Harare News has revealed shocking debts owed by high profile institutions including government, schools and churches. The list of nearly 7,000 accounts indicates that nearly 14 million dollars is owed to the City – in just one of Harare’s 46 wards.
Among the top 20 defaulters, which collectively owe over $5 million, are nine corporates, six individuals, two schools, two government institutions, and one popular church that allegedly owes $386,137.
Private properties account for 50% of the alleged debts while companies including trusts owe 41%. State enterprises owe over $670 000. Two wealthy private schools owe council $225,498 while a single resident appears to owe $656,376.
Harare News contacted some of the biggest defaulters, who disputed the amounts and expressed anger at how the City manages the accounts and customer queries.
Most people we spoke to were very forthcoming about their debts, and offered supporting paperwork that raises many questions about the data. Certainly the quality of the data set raises questions about the competency of the City’s accounts department, and we have therefore decided to withhold the names of all debtors until we can be assured that the disputed amounts are correct.
The head of one school said that, until four years ago when he took charge, the school was not receiving bills and when they requested title deeds, a bill exceeding $100,000 was presented to them.
“We were shocked, but devised and agreed on a payment plan with the city, which we have honoured to the mark. However, in spite of putting an very tough agreement in place which we dutifully fulfilled, we have still been hassled by debt collectors – it’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing,” he said, adding that they have to pay twice for their services, buying water and hiring private waste collectors to avoid the dangers of having excessive rubbish building up on school grounds.
The Bursar from another school that owes hundreds of thousands of dollars also expressed dismay at council’s unwillingness to negotiate on their $6,500 monthly levy which she described as being exorbitant.
“We have engaged them several times over our levy which is excessive since we are not making profits here. Even the promising discussions got no results. As for the debt, we are working hard to clear it,” she said, offering proof of payments for 2017 that exceeded $40,000.
A high profile church is currently contesting the supposed debt in the high court, saying that the water tariff comprises the bulk of their monthly levy yet they have not received any supplies for many years.
“We have stopped paying rates while we contest this matter,” said one of the church’s pastors.
The City claims that it is owed over $600 million in unpaid accounts and has pursued small debtors in high density areas with vigour through Wellcash debt collectors yet this leak clearly shows massive debts in one of the wealthiest suburbs. Residents will be satisfied at least that councillors voted to halt the use of Wellcash on 11 April.
A data analyst who examined the records highlighted several other indications that City of Harare needs to be thoroughly audited by an external auditor, and their system and records overhauled. Many properties are not included in the list, for instance, there only 78 listed accounts for the upmarket Piers Road, yet there are perhaps over 200 properties along this road. It is clear that the data is not comprehensive and we will continue to pursue a full account for this and other wards in the city.
The leaked data also reveals massive accounting irregularities at City of Harare. There are widely varying account number formats, misspelled names, wrong addresses and more.
Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni highlighted the concerns of the City in his State of the City Address on 13 April when he raised the possibility that residents are withholding rates in hope of a repeat of the 2013 ‘debt forgiveness’ which saw the city lose over $300 million. He said “the expectations that there will be another write off next year makes [it] virtually impossible to maximize collections.”
However without accurate and comprehensive accounts it is impossible to ascertain the true state of the debtor’s situation. Harare News has engaged the Mayor and his team over this issue, and will pursue this matter as the discussion continues.
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