The system was so open to abuse that three months after the government directed Zimbabwe’s 92 local authorities to write off residents’ debts run up between February 2009 and June 2013, many were doubtful that they would see any benefit from the amnesty.
Almost all local authorities have failed to get the expected surge in public interest to pay for services, partly because of unclear billing systems. As a result, bills have begun to accumulate at a rate as fast as in the past.
“As long as the current council billing system is not addressed, residents will always accumulate debts. In 2009, council introduced a 51 per cent interest rate on overdue accounts coupled with an estimated consumption billing system, which is not accurate and milks residents,” said Harare Residents’ Trust Director Precious Shumba.
At a meeting on the impact of the government’s July directive, organised by Poverty Reduction Forum Trust last week, Shumba said Harare City Council had never produced an audited report to boost ratepayers’ confidence.
“The council’s billing system crashed in 2010 and was unworkable, prompting us to put together a 6,000-plus signed petition to write off bills and embark on a transparent billing system,” he said.
“To make matters worse, a lot of money is being diverted for other uses and this makes it difficult for residents to keep a clean sheet.”
A Budiriro resident, Amai Chinyama, said they only got water once a week but always received huge water bills.
“I rent a full house, and we do not use a lot of council water as it is only available once or twice a week, but surprisingly we are charged $60 a month. This is the reason why residents will continue to have debts,” she said.
Most residents at the meeting said that the cancellation of debts had not led to positive changes. Service delivery had not improved and debts were already accumulating.
“Three months after debts were cancelled, we already owe council and, by
December, the bills will be unbearable,” said a Glen View resident. “The slashing of debts has benefited landlords more than lodgers. We always pay our dues, yet landlords do not pay up to council and when this cancellation came it benefited them. Lodgers got no discounts on their rent charges.”
Harare’s revenue collection manager, Regis Makwembere, admitted that the council billing system was in a shambles.
“Most of our water meters are very old and 50 per cent of them are malfunctioning, making us rely on an estimated consumption billing system,” said Makwembere. “Residents must speak to the council when they suspect they are being overcharged and these issues can be rectified on a one-by- one basis.”
Makwembere said delays caused by an unreliable billing system was further confusing residents.Post published in: News