The City of Harare should end the Misinformation

I am deeply troubled by the sudden turn of events in Harare. The majority of citizens owe huge debts to council. Service delivery has deteriorated to unexpected levels. Elected Councillors are invisible within local communities, given the social economic hardship being experienced by the citizenry. Dubious organizations have emerged to capitalize on the failures of both the City of Harare as an institution and the silence of the elected Councillors as policymakers.

Even the 11 appointed special interest Councillors have remained aloof, depriving the City of Harare of the so-called expertise within their ranks. Residents are at the mercy of opportunistic organizations and individuals that thrive on chaos and human suffering.

When it comes to service provision by local authorities, there are shared responsibilities and obligations between residents and other stakeholders. For each service delivery component impacting on local communities, the Urban Council’s Act (Chapter 29:15) provides that there be a responsible department of a local authority.

There is a committee comprising elected and appointed Councillors to assist the local authority in policy formulation. For the City of Harare there are eight council committees namely the Finance and Development, Environment Management, Information and Publicity, Education, Health, Housing and Community Services, Human Resources, Procurement Board, Business and Audit.

Each committee is serviced by technical staff drawn from the respective departments of council. This means each committee should be provided with relevant information that plays a significant role in helping councilors make informed and realistic decisions on behalf of the electorate- residents.

The City of Harare has 18 district offices, headed by District Officers (DOs), commonly known as superintendent (katsekera) where residents are expected to receive services from the local authority. Among the main duties and responsibilities that they undertake are to attend to service delivery reports from residents in areas of sewerage and water services, refuse collection, road maintenance, rates queries and other service delivery related concerns.

The introduction of the multi currency payment system in February 2009 brought with it several complications to the billing of residents. The majority of residents had prior to this paid trillions of Zimbabwe dollars in advance during the 2007- 2008 hyper inflationary environment. This meant that some people would pay amounts exceeding ten trillion Zimbabwean dollars to the City of Harare.

Yet the local authority was not collecting garbage, water supplies were erratic, sewerage bursts were prominent in high density areas and the city billing system was chaotic then as it is today. The ultimate result has been little improvement in service delivery. The billing remains a nightmare to the majority rate paying population.

I have been prompted to right this piece by recent events in Highfield, Glen View, Glen Norah, and lately in Budiriro. An organization that has strong links with people known to be members of Zanu PF and apparently tied to officials in the City Treasury department has been raking in thousands of dollars from unsuspecting residents who owe the city huge amounts of money.

This organization calling itself the Welfare Trust has repeatedly misled residents into believing that by merely paying US$20 their debts, running into several hundreds and thousands of dollars will be cleared by the City of Harare. When this information emerged, the City Treasury Department was quick to distance itself from this ongoing scandal. Officials from the District offices concerned have claimed to the HRT representatives that they have no power to stop this organization because certain officials within the City Treasury department have instructed them to cooperate with this outfit.

The same City treasury department has dispatched thousands of summon to residents who owe the local authority huge amounts of money in unsettled debt, threatening to dispossess them of their belongings through court action. The City of Harare will not succeed in this.

Despite branding the Welfare Trust as a bogus organization, the Budiriro District Offices on Wednesday 8 February 2012 hosted hundreds if not thousands of residents who were shepherded to the council offices in order to pay the US$20 on condition that they have purchased a Welfare Trust card that is stamped at the back with no other details. At the District Offices officials from this Welfare Trust organization demand to see their card as a pre-condition to enter the premises of the District offices.

Without the card one is harassed by suspicious-looking characters demanding to know your business, who you want to see at the council offices and directing you to individual houses where other officials from the organization will be busy collecting a dollar from each person. The HRT experienced this first hand. And desperate residents are happily partying with their money.

The City of Harare district offices are public buildings without entry restrictions to members of the public. What then becomes the role of municipal police if residents are harassed in their presence by non-council employees? The HRT is curious to know the link between the actions of this outfit and Chipangano in Mbare that has taken over council buildings without any immediate solution in sight.

Can US$20 offset a debt of US$1 800? To those familiar with accounts and the principle of interest rates this is practically impossible. However, despite being fully aware of this contradiction, the premises of the City of Harare in local communities have been highjacked by non-council employees, masquerading as saints to protect the residents from the bondage of their debts. The City of Harare has not taken corrective measures to protect residents against manipulation by this organization, which has successfully silenced even our elected councilors, the Mayor of Harare and even law enforcement agents. The City of Harare has no known policy of cancelling all debt. The only position of council I know of is the entering into payment terms with revenue officers at district offices or at Rowan Martin Building.

On further enquiry, our representatives within communities are being told that this exercise was initiated to raise money for a particular political leader after failing to raise the money through other means. As HRT we foresee a situation where residents’ hopes will be shattered at the end of this month or March when residents who have complied with Welfare Trust’s move will realize that they were misled. Initially, residents’ anger will be directed towards the City of Harare, and will be turned on the councilors for their silence in the face of this stunt. And someone out there will use this as a campaign tool to discredit the sitting councilors for their complicity. Just watch this space!

I suggest the City of Harare make use of Radio stations to forewarn residents against falling prey to misinformation. They can also use mobile network operators for a partnership to disseminate this vital information. Using newspapers is right but not enough to reach out. Most people do not buy newspapers. The HRT will continue to urge the residents of Harare to desist from entering into shortcut arrangements to settle their outstanding debts because they will have themselves to blame when the arrangement backfires.

I thank you

Precious Shumba, writing in personal capacity

[email protected]

0772 869 294

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