In spite of a directive by Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni to halt the use of Wellcash in collection of overdue rates, residents are still being hounded for payment by the private company that was appointed to the task by council resolution.
Council spokesperson Michael Chideme says the debt collection is still underway and insists that this in no way undermines the directive of the Mayor.
“We are still working with Wellcash and residents are urged to make their way to council offices to settle their arrears or otherwise make payment plans.
“This process came about after a council resolution and we are not going against the Mayor but merely following a council resolution which still stands”, said Chideme.
Prompted by financial ruin, City of Harare unleashed Wellcash on Harare’s ratepayers at the beginning of 2017 in a desperate attempt to recover an estimated $600 million in rates arrears.
However, instances of property being attached have caused anger from residents who are battling to make ends meet in difficult economic circumstances, and also blame council for the service delivery crisis facing the city.
Wellcash are accused of using forceful methods, and residents are angered by the 10% collection fee levied on top of their overdue rates. In a council memo, Manyenyeni described their approach as “brutal or at best arrogant.” However, it seems to have paid off, and City of Harare is likely to weather the storm for a while longer.
“We have recorded a very good improvement in all our banking halls in terms of both revenue and the number of people coming in to make payment plans such as settling arrears over a three to five month period,” said Chideme, who could not provide substantive figures on this by the time of going to press.
Commenting in a dramatic fashion, Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) described the debt collecting process as a ‘reign of terror’.
“The justification for engaging the debt collectors has been that this would compel residents to pay their debts to council but as CHRA, we are imploring the Harare City Council to make payment plans with residents rather than unleash debt collectors who are robbing residents of their property and hard earned cash in broad daylight…
“CHRA has been inundated with calls from affected residents who have fallen victim to Wellcash Debt Collectors and the continued operations of Wellcash Debt Collectors comes at a time the MDC-T has directed its councillors who dominate the Harare City Council to cancel the debt collectors’ contract ,”said CHRA
Some residents targeted by Wellcash turned to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to save their property. ZLHR lawyer and program manager Dzimbabwe Chimbga said the debt collection process was unlawful, in particular the 10% service to be paid by the residents.
“Legally they are acting on the wrong side of the law, what Wellcash can do is work with the consent of residents but what is happening is that they are now collecting these monies as a matter of right,” said Chimbga.
The timing of this move by council is likely spurred by the burning memory of the 2013 rates forgiveness policy imposed by central government shortly before the country’s national elections. Consensus among analysts is that it was a political move by Zanu PF to win favour from urban dwellers. It simultaneously robbed the council of hundreds of millions of dollars and seeded a culture of non-payment, even among previously regular contributors.
Have you been engaged by Wellcash over rates arrears? Share your story with firstname.lastname@example.org