The City of Harare has reversed the hotly contested 10 percent interest charge on all arrears on rates and service charges effected from the end of October which residents had roundly condemned as unfair.
Greendale District Office revenue officer Mr Israel Gwara informed residents of the suburb about the reversal in a notice this week on Tuesday.
“Good evening loyal residents. Be advised that the interest charged by council on all balances in the second week of November 2023 has been reversed. In the same context we continue to encourage that let us make all efforts to pay up our outstanding accounts in order to fund service delivery. Thank you,” Mr Gwara said.
Residents immediately welcomed the move describing it as the sane thing to do because council was slapping them with interest charges even when they cleared all their balances.
Greendale residents said the 10 percent interest charge was grossly unfair to those ratepayers who always pay their bills.
The residents expressed concern over the City of Harare’s billing describing some of the charges as brazen theft of ratepayers’ money.
On Monday last week, the city advised residents about the new 10 percent interest charge torching heated reactions from ratepayers who called for a probe on the municipality’s outrageous billing.
“Good afternoon loyal residents of Greendale. This is to advise you that council has effected an interest charge of 10 percent on all arrears with effect from the end (of) October 2023. Thus anybody who cleared their account to zero after the effected date now has a balance outstanding,” read the message sent to Greendale residents by Mr Gwara last week.
Residents said they discovered their accounts were in arrears after checking for their balances using the City of Harare’s online platforms even when they are paid up. The residents described the municipality’s billing as “fishy”.
Residents sought to find out if council had sent a warning before the 10 percent interest charge was effected. Some residents said they were slapped with the interest charge after paying their rates on November 3 despite the fact they had been paying their rates every month without any outstanding balance for several months. They wondered if the 10 percent interest charge “is not daylight robbery by council”.
Highlands residents said they were getting bills as high as over ZWL$2,3 million despite the fact that they use borehole water and private garbage collection companies as no service if forthcoming from the City of Harare. One resident described their bill of over ZWL$2,3 million as a joke.
A Greendale resident said they were charged ZWL$54 000 interest for delaying paying their bill by three days which brought their total bill including the interest charges to more than ZWL$622 000.
Some residents advised fellow property owners to pay for everything else except water and refuse collection if they have boreholes and use private refuse collection companies. They should then demand reversals on non-provided services, which they have previously been charged, the residents advised. Others said the council demands a borehole permit to reverse water charges.
Property owners queried why the City of Harare is charging interest per month and not per annum.
Another Highlands resident said what was upsetting about the City of Harare’s 10 percent interest charge was that the municipality does not give ratepayers 30 days to pay. The resident said they paid their October bill in November but were charged 10 percent interest without being allowed 30 days to pay. Residents bemoaned council’s decision at a time when it is not providing any services as rubbish is not collected, their taps have no water and roads are collapsing.
The City of Harare’s billing has been in shambles since 2019 when it stopped using the BIQ system from a South African supplier. The city uses estimates but residents have been challenging the bills saying they cannot be made to pay for non-delivered services.
Last week, the City of Harare’s acting revenue manager Mr Alfred Guni appealed to residents to pay their bills via a video shared on residents’ online platforms and the city’s social media platforms.
But residents questioned the city’s billing system in response to Mr Guni’s appeal saying the city was taking advantage of residents who religiously pay their rates and punishing them by slapping them with high bills.
Last year a city official told Suburban that council penalises residents who are paying their rates and service charges by raising their bills to cover up for the defaulting ratepayers.The official said a small percentage of residents pay their monthly bills leaving the municipality with a paralysing deficit and unable to fund services.
“Council is now penalising the law-abiding citizens, who are paying their bills. Council is increasing bills so that a small percentage which is paying their bills can cover for the others who are not paying, which is just not fair,” the council official admitted last year.