Billing crisis – Trust pushes for debt relief

The Harare Residents Trust (HRT) wants the city of Harare and the power utility company, ZESA, to write off all debt accumulated by Harare residents between 2009 and 2010.

The HRT director, Precious Shumba, told a Rotary meeting last week, that this followed a Competitions and Tariffs Commission report which concluded the billing system for the two organisations “left a lot to be desired” because it was based on estimates.

Shumba said HRT wanted residents to settle accurate bills from January 01 2011 to present. He said this move had the potential of increasing the cash flows within the local authority.

“A huge number of citizens continue to be summoned to court, threatened with letters of final demand and subsequently basic services are discontinued by public utilities, basing their actions on inaccurate bills,” said Shumba.

Shumba said an over 50 percent interest rate imposed on overdue accounts by Harare city put a financial burden on mostly the poor, who were suffering electricity and water cuts due to non payment.

He described the power and water cuts as not only ‘retrogressive and counter productive” but a direct violation of the people’s rights access to basic services.

Shumba attributed the billing anomalies to alleged cases of corruption and outright incompetence within ZESA and the City of Harare, where the poor were forced to pay huge amounts yet senior government officials were not paying.

A recent leaked list of ZESA defaulters showed that high ranking government officials, mostly from Zanu (PF), including President Robert Mugabe, owed thousands of dollars in unpaid electricity.

Shumba also criticised the transformation of designated recreational spaces into residential stands, saying it had created congestion and health challenges such as tuberculosis in the city.

He cited Budiriro, where land designated for a community clinic, a primary and secondary school, had been converted to a residential area.

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