Debt cancellation by City of Harare the only option

The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) continues to record a massive outcry and disgruntlement from residents across Harare over delays in cancelling of debts by the City of Harare from the period February 2009 to December 2010. Citizens have also demanded that the municipality scrap off debts accrued during the period of 2005 to 2006, during the Zimbabwe dollar era. These positions have emerged during Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), public meetings and reports gathered by the HRT, as part of i

Residents have failed to find the justification for the huge debts that they are said to have accrued between the period February 2009 up to December 2010 when the City of Harare was failing to provide public services that fall under its mandate. For instance, refuse collection, water supply and road maintenance. It is during this period that roads became heavily potholed, dumpsites emerged across all suburbs, high cases of flowing sewerage were recorded and water supplies became erratic. Council did not stop billing residents or imposing huge interests on their accounts despite the shoddy services it was providing.

Like any other institution, the City Of Harare should be in a position to accept that it has to suffer the consequences of national socio-economic meltdown that the ordinary citizen had to go through when they lost their deposits in banks, and they have not been compensated. Residents continue to protest over failure by council to decentralise and digitalise its billing system. This is a move, according to most residents, is deliberate on the part of the council which is trying to hide ongoing corrupt activities and embezzlement of rate payers’ money while it serves them with final letters of demand and threatened attachment of their properties as was the case in Mabvuku-Tafara.

From the focus group discussion held in Mabvuku on 9 May 2012 it came out that the City Of Harare is charging US$ 8 for refuse collection every month yet the actual charge is pegged at US$6, 50 on the bill. Residents are also being overcharged for sewerage reticulation by a $1 above the fixed charge of US$5 which appears on household statements as US$6. On the other hand residents in Northern suburbs despite going for years without running council tap water or rehabilitation of old infrastructure, the council continues to send monthly bills with fixed rates ranging from US$5 to US$11. If one is to calculate what this translates to it becomes clear that there is a deliberate attempt to steal from residents through overcharging by a ‘mere’ dollar, which become a bigger figure if looked at from the perspective of all residents.

In April 2011 during a meeting held by the HRT together with the City of Harare in Mabvuku, as part of the residents body’s mandate to facilitate engagement amongst citizens, their elected representatives and service providers, municipality officials told residents they had to negotiate through their councillors if they wanted their debts to be frozen but the likelihood of that happening was very remote. To date nothing has materialised. In the interim fears of property repossession by council loomed and the axe fell on the residents in February 2012. Despite the department of water acknowledging that the area had gone for five years without water, they still insisted on residents settling their bills for water not delivered, for refuse not collected, and above all for being excluded in budget formulation.

The Chairperson of Mabvuku Residents’ Committee Mr William Daison said: “The City Of Harare promised to provide residents in Mabvuku with feedback on their demand for debt cancellation but residents have waited for more than a year for the feedback’’.

Most residents feel burdened by the huge debts that have accumulated in their accounts and expect the City of Harare to honour their promise to provide satisfactory feedback on the issue of debt cancellation.

This has also been the case in Glen Norah. The HRT had a public meeting on the 23 June 2012 where it emerged that in 2005, Glen Norah residents were told by the District office that they were to make payments at any district office or City of Harare banking hall as it was no longer functional, and they were promised that despite their monthly bills not reflecting any payments, council billing system/ computers had recorded their payments. Their accounts to date do not reflect the payments made from 2005 to 2006, highlighting the level of corruption in council.

It was also revealed at the same meeting that despite making several trips and holding meetings with Mr. Stonard Majogo from the City Treasury Department seeking clarification and correction on their manipulated bills, residents have up still not benefited, meaning the thefts of residents funds are done through a complex network of council employees. The billing system remains corrupted and chaotic, giving rise to speculation that most of the money being generated by the council is going towards administrative and staff expenses, against moral expectations of residents to improve service delivery.

The upsurge in the number of residents disconnected from water supplies owing to dysfunctional water meters in Glen Norah and Highfield in the past two months has angered residents who have been subjected to estimated, backdated and inflated water bills. In the interim, cut off families have been relying on borehole water. The City of Harare has not provided the disconnected residents the United Nations allocation of 20 litres per individual per day, a resolution made in the presence of a Zimbabwean delegation. In September 2011 violence erupted at community boreholes sunk by UNICEF amongst residents as they fought for water near Ruvheneko Primary school. Council made no visible efforts to improve the water situation.

Recently, in retaliation angry Glen Norah residents whose memories are still fresh from the horror deaths experienced in the 2008-2009 cholera outbreaks have reconnected illegally their water after being disconnected by council.

City of Harare Area Manager Districts-Harare Water, Mr Victor Chifamba said: “Glen Norah is one of the areas with serious cases of housing units that have illegally reconnected water, pegged at 900 households.”

The City of Harare needs to wake up from their sleep and respond to the demands of the residents as a matter of urgency.

Dissatisfied residents from Dzivarasekwa Phase 3, whose bills averaged US$600 in May 2012 threatened to boycott servicing their municipality accounts after a huge section of the area went for two months without water and refuse collection while their monthly payments were not reflected on their bills.

The Secretary of Dzivarasekwa 2 Residents’ Committee Mr. Omiro Chigo said: “We want City authorities to explain to us the conversion index that was used from Zimbabwean dollar to US dollars with regards to the US$10 that were debited onto our bills by the municipality despite it lying to us that it had cancelled our debts. We also want central government and the central bank to tell us where our quintillions went in February 2009 because clearly local government did not clear our debts but instead backdated them and put interest on them,”

The HRT therefore ask City Of Harare to seriously consider debt cancellation for the period stated above for it to be able to achieve the recently launched vision, “Harare to achieve a WORLD CLASS CITY STATUS by 2025, otherwise they will continue to experience slow cash inflows given the poor debt management system. It is far much better to take actions that promote trust and confidence in the system than fight residents, who are themselves struggling to make ends meet. An incentive to the defaulters through a debt cancellation would spur more people to attempt to remain up to date with their debt than have the current situation where the majority have lost hope of ever completely settling their huge debts.

Thank you,

Pretty Chabuda – HRT Lobby and Advocacy

Post published in: News

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