Non-service providers sue non payers as economy faces collapse

Ambuya Ratidzai Bakasa, 75, of Chikangwe old suburb is an unemployed widow and vegetable vendor. She was recently shocked to receive three letters of demand for outstanding bills of over $1 000 that must be settled within 48 hours.

Desperate: Residents queue to collect drinking water from a borehole.
Desperate: Residents queue to collect drinking water from a borehole.

The letters were from Karoi town council, Zimbabwe National Water Authority, (Zinwa) and a local school, all demanding outstanding payment for the past two years.

She is another victim of service providers who are choking the nation. Bakasa battles to make ends meet as a vegetable vendor at Old Salazi market stalls in Karoi town, 204 kilometers along the Harare-Chirundu road.

Frustrated, she blames Zinwa workers in Shona, “Vashandi veZinwa havana nyadzi kutipa masamanisi emvura isingabudi. Pano hapabudi mvura asi chavanongoda imari chete”meaning (“It is unfortunate that Zinwa officials have the temerity to issue 48-hour final demand letters, although we have gone for years without running water.’’)

Sad chapter

Mbuya Bakasa must raise $650 demanded by Zinwa, $285for council rentals and rates while school debt collectors are calling for a payment plan for the $225 owed for three orphans she is looking after. This is yet another sad chapter of misery faced by millions of Zimbabweans due to the social, political and economic challenges brought about by the mis-governance of Zanu (PF).

Zinwa are under fire for failure to rehabilitate worn out old pipes in major towns, besides their tough stance on debt recovery.

Vicious circle

“We normally get water when monthly statements are due so that we pay,’’ says Bennilda Mutonga, 28, a mother of two from Chiedza suburb.

Nearly 200 Karoi council workers have not been paid their salaries for years, but they face demands from Zinwa for payment. “Some of the workers’ salary arrears date back to 2013. Some are owed $5 000in arrears – but Zinwa wants money and it is a vicious circle for us. Management can only assist you financially when there is a funeral of a relative. Karoi council is a funeral fund,’’ said a workers committee member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The council secretary, Maxwell Kaitano, blames ratepayers. ‘’Creditors owe us $2 million. If it is recovered, we can easily pay workers arrears,” he said.

Karoi small service shops secretary Hevison Mpinga disagreed with Kaitano’s suggestion. He said the council was failing on service delivery, hence the non-payment.

‘’There is no service from the council compared to demanded rentals and rates,’’ he said.

Zinwa scandal

Mpinga also blamed Zinwa for daylight robbery. ‘’Zinwa is a scandal because the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority has expensive machinery including transformers and cables stretching for several hundreds of kilometers before we get electricity, yet we are being charged $12.00 fixed charge monthly. This is a rip off by Zinwa‘’, he says.

A Zinwa worker who declined to be named complained that they had not been paid salaries for five months. ‘’It is cruel for us as council is suing us. We are owed five months salaries,” he said. An airtime vendor, Mathew Katura, said he was battling to meet the payment plan for Tel-One line pegged at $2 500 dating back to 2009. ‘’ I cannot afford to raise that money,” he said.

Another resident, Rhoda Rambanepasi, blamed lawyers and debt collectors as dubious middlemen for charging ridiculous fees.

‘’I owed the school $190 but I must pay $80 extra as administration fee. The action by lawyers and debts collectors is criminal. If I failed to get the little sum of money before where will I get shocking administration fees,” she asked.

This is the reality gripping the majority of Zimbabweans entangled in the web of poverty as most are now living from hand-to-mouth.

More apathy

Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba blamed former sunshine city management for raising the salaries of senior staff but failing to improve on service delivery.

‘’There will be more apathy and negativity towards the activities of public service providers. Policymakers must see that the economic crisis has deepened to unprecedented levels. Residents may want to pay but there is no financial capacity,’’ he said recently.

“If 60-70 percent of the population have to be sued by service providers, the economy has collapsed. ’There is need for imminent debt cancellation given this level of indebtedness to service providers,’’ added Shumba.

He warned that this may invoke electorate anger ahead of the 2018 elections.

Zinwa communications manager, Marjorie Munyonga, admitted that they too were facing financial challenges from non-paying clients that was impacting negatively on operations.

“We appeal to consumers to pay so that service delivery can improve. We are engaging debt collectors to boosts our revenue,” she said in a statement.

Uncertain future

Mbuya Bakasa has no clue what the future holds for her three grandchildren aged between eight and 15.

‘’Our councillor’s house has had no water for eight years and he does not know when it will be restored. If a policymaker does not have a clue, do you expect an old widow to know? The future is uncertain,” she said sadly.

As non-service providers jostle to hand her ‘’final demand’’ summons, she is, like most Zimbabweans, saddled with debts and has resigned herself to the ruthless fate gripping the nation 35 years after independence.

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