THE Government through the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works has expressed concern the over the City of Harare’s perennial failure to fix its billing system.
In a letter advising the City of Harare that central Government had approved its 2023 budget, the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works reminded the municipality to take note of the observations and comments raised when it presented its budget proposals to the Ministry.
These included delays in fixing the billing system, updating by-laws, finalisation of the city’s valuation roll and strategies to improve revenue collection.
“There has been very little traction in the procurement a functional Enterprise Resource Planner, and it is hoped that this matter will be redressed at the earliest convenience to enhance organisational operations,” the Permanent Secretary Mr Zvinechimwe Churu said in the letter.
Suburban had sight of the letter addressed to Harare acting town clerk Engineer Phakamile Mabhena Moyo and dated January 16, 2023.
Since the withdrawal of the BIQ billing system in 2019, the municipality’s billing has been shambolic with the local authority battling with an alternative system that saw it failing to produce monthly bills on time.
The BIQ, provided by Quill Associates, a South African system developer, was itself not so accurate but the billing crisis worsened with the new system which was failing to capture and reconcile payments made by ratepayers.
This has left the municipality to rely on estimates, particularly on water charges, which residents feel are unfair because council tap water is not readily available to most of them.
Residents are also being billed twice a month for refuse collection but the service remains erratic.
Under the alternative system, council is urging residents to pay their bills while receipting is done offline sometimes with no updates on payments made.
Announcing the approval of local authorities’ budgets last week, Local Government and Public Works Minister Moyo urged municipalities to adopt the Local Authorities Digital Systems (LADS) developed by the Harare Institute of Technology. Mutare has adopted the LADS and realised an improvement in revenue collection.
“All local authorities have been urged to upgrade their Enterprise Resource Program (ERPS) to the LADS platform in order to raise their revenue collection capacities.
“This will ensure proper provision of quality services to their residents,” said Minister Moyo.
In his budget presentation in November last year, Chairperson of the Finance and Economic Development Committee Councillor Costa Mande singled out the billing system as one of the three issues requiring urgent attention in addition to dilapidated infrastructure, low revenue collection, outstanding governance issues raised by the Auditor General, lack of by-laws in income generating areas and lack of enforcement of existing by-laws.
He said delays in resolving the ERP issue was seriously affecting council operations and eroding ratepayers’ confidence in the municipality.
Last year, a special council meeting heard that a total of 18 Town House officials had schemed a foreign jaunt to South Africa and China to earn themselves foreign currency allowances saying they needed to study how ERP systems there work yet council used to have such a system while some local organisations also run on a similar system.
All the four issues the Ministry of Local Government raised are linked to revenue collection.
Presently, Harare’s revenues are poor severely incapacitating the municipality’s ability to fund services.
“We are pleased to inform you that the Minister of Local Government and Public works approved your 2023 budget. You are however reminded to take note of the observations and comments raised during the budget presentation meeting, chiefly: – by-laws, ERP, valuation roll (and) strategies to improve revenue collection,” read Mr Churu’s letter.
The Ministry urged council to speed up the up the updating of by-laws and offered to assist the municipality.
“While efforts to review and update by-laws are noted, Council is urged to speed up the process which is key in Council operations. The Ministry is at your disposal to facilitate this process,” said Mr Churu.
Minister Moyo directed all councils to produce by-laws by January 31, 2023 to support their budgets in his announcement last week.
Harare has been undertaking the valuation of properties in the city and had indicated the process would have been completed by November last year to pave way for new rates, at the beginning of this year, charged according to the new property sizes and new land use. But it appears the city missed the deadline.
“It is essential for council to have an up-to-date General Valuation Roll so as to maximise on revenue collection,” Mr Churu said.
The Ministry was also concerned Harare’s revenue strategies had not brought in the desired results.
“While various (revenue collection) strategies have been proffered over the years, it is noted that these have to date not proved to work, or at least have not realised the expected results.
“To this end, council is urged to put in place robust revenue collection and debt recovery strategies. Furthermore, kindly ensure that the new tariffs are gazetted as per statutory requirement.”