WARD 17 residents have expressed frustration over the perennially chaotic billing at the City of Harare with the city continuing to bill them for non-delivered services and failing to capture payments made as well as the ever skyrocketing rates.
In discussions on their residents’ platform, Ward 17 ratepayers said the municipality was terribly failing to address the billing chaos with most of them not receiving monthly bill statements while the city’s rates are rising every month. The few residents who have received their latest bills said they were billed amounts ranging from ZWL$235 000 to ZWL$800 000 for residential and commercial properties, which some described as phantom and a joke.
For a number of years, the City of Harare has not been sending residents monthly bill statements and residents have had to inquire each time they want to make payments.
A few years ago, the city stopped using a reliable billing system following a dispute with a South African supplier resulting in the municipality failing to produce monthly bill statements. Council urged residents to provide details such as emails and mobile phone numbers in order to get e-bills. Residents obliged but the system still failed to produce bills for all ratepayers. Council also came up with digital payment platforms but these have been failing to capture payments, much to the disappointment of ratepayers meeting their monthly obligations.
The discussions were sparked by statistics shared at the Ward 17 pre-budget meeting which showed an average bill payment rate of only 3 percent for Ward 17. According to the statistics, council billed a total of ZWL$801 595 014.53 between January and July this year but realised only ZWL$22 937 169.74 in revenue leaving an outstanding debt of ZWL$790 447 762.48.
Residents described the figures as “phantom” with some suggesting the municipality should write off any outstanding balances and start afresh given the chaotic billing in the city. Briefing fellow ratepayers, those who attended the meeting said the major outcome was the need for residents to pay their bills to enable council to deliver services.
But property owners said it was difficult to make any payments when they don’t receive bill statements or have to chase council officials to be given inflated statements billing them for non-delivered services such as water and refuse collection. Suggestions were made for those using gmail accounts to try alternative email addresses because council was claiming that bills sent to Gmail accounts are bouncing.
However, some residents said they had sent alternative emails but were still not getting bills although others said they had received their bills on alternative emails.
Those making internet transfers to council’s bankers say when they approach officials at Mt Pleasant District Office with their proof of payment, they are told to go and email the proof of payment, which are never captured.
Residents wondered why the City of Harare could not come up with an e-billing system which shows ratepayers up to date information about their accounts the same way banks do for their clients.
They were disgusted at being asked to visit numerous council offices to get their bills sorted at a time when the world had made technological advances which make it possible for people to transact even from the comfort of their homes.
Appalled by the billing chaos, residents made it clear it was not their business to run around council offices to cover up for a system that does not work.
The discussion heard that council’s billing system will not be solved at least until January 2023 but residents were urged to continue paying their rates because they might face debt collectors if their debts continue to balloon. In response, some ratepayers said they could only pay for delivered bills and should not be expected to be asking for their bills every month.
Participants who were at the budget meeting said they told council officials during the consultation that their billing and revenue collection efficiency was atrocious and was the major reason for the collapse of services in Harare.
According to the information supplied at the budget meeting, Mt Pleasant property owners owe the highest amount at ZWL$447 250 904.61, more than half of the outstanding total ward debt of ZWL$790 million.