A Member of Parliament has suggested that the City of Harare should advertise names of ratepayers owing the municipality in the press instead of debt collecting, a suggestion central Government has welcomed.
Harare North Member of the National Assembly Mr Allan Markham made the suggestion during the question and answer session in Parliament saying the advertising method could make people act and clear their debts.
“Madam Speaker, as a final point, I would like to say to the Minister, instead of debt-collecting, if they could consider advertising the debt and who owes them how much money, which will get people jumping around,” suggested Mr Markham.
Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo said the method could be adopted but only after the City of Harare has fixed its shambolic billing system.
“The issue of advertising those who are not paying, we can take that route but I think the first thing is to clean up the billing system that Harare has. They have been using software which, by their own admission, they had already made a resolution in council to say this ICT is not working and they had already requested that the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) should come and look at that system so that they can get help.
“Today, the Vice Chancellor (of HIT) and his Dean who is responsible for innovation in the university were with us together with Harare City Council and the President said yesterday, ‘do everything to make sure that Harare gets on a digital system that can look at all the systems, including their valuation rolls, billing system, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for instance, which can indicate to us what services are not being given in what areas at the touch of a button.
Right now if you went and ask where water leakages or sewerage outbursts are, they will not know and yet in Mutare as I said, you can now at the touch of a button, with the help of HIT, they now know where things are not right. So, let us give ourselves an opportunity so that we can correct Harare and if correcting Harare situation means we must publicise those who are not paying, then we should be able to do so,” responded the Minister.
Mr Markham also asked the Minister what measures have been put in place to collect the outstanding debt of $5.5 billion owed to City of Harare and why the debt has been ignored for so long.
He also sought an explanation why people who have not paid their bills since the days of former (Local Government) Minister Ignatius Chombo to date have not been brought to book and whether the act of writing off the debt, which was done in 2013 by central Government, was not an abuse of office and if so, to state who authorised it and under what statute.
Minister Moyo told the House that the $5,5 billion Harare debt was as at February 28, 2021 and the council was billing in excess of $2,2 billion following the new tariffs effected in January this year.
“That is what the city is telling us. So, it is not that it has been ignored for long but it just shot up very sharply from January 2021. Efforts to collect over the years have been made and as you know, these are exchange transactions. Service delivery has been poor and residents have been resistant to pay.
“Legal processes to prosecute and bring to book rates defaulters normally take longer than usual because of the various steps that council has to take. Again, council would only use that as a last resort effort.
‘‘The hope has been that mending the relations through public relations campaigns, timeous billing, efficient billing, delivery of service and stakeholder engagement will get the bills rolling in encouraging residents to pay. Current efforts being made are water disconnection, final demands and summons. On top of the agenda is the resuscitation of service delivery.”
The Minister said he was convinced that the steps council was taking would see it collect most of the bills giving the example of Mutare City Council which has improved its revenue collection through adopting the Harare Institute of Technology’s LADS system.
“If I can give you an example of what has happened by implementing the system that I am talking about in Mutare and the success that we have got. Two years ago, Mutare was collecting at 47 percent within six months and when they started implementing this LADS system, they are now at 85 percent. Results have been that it is the only local authority which has paid all loans to Government; it has paid all the ZIMRA debt, ZINWA, all the pension arrears and is up to date.
Not only are they up to date in their operations, they have now invested $US500 000 in investments and keeping a cash outlay of $US200 000 physical and this is because of a system that we think will help Harare.
“So, I want to assure the Honourable Member that the narration that I have given, while it lacks the assurance that we can collect, we want to walk with them on a journey that will transform the billing system and therefore the service delivery system of Harare.”
On why it was taking long to deal with debtors from the days of Chombo’s era, Minister Moyo said the “council has to bring them to book once they know all the issues and we think that the system will help us”.
On who authorized writing off debts in 2013, the Minister responded:
“The Honourable Member knows I am not responsible for authorising it and those who bring people to book are a responsibility of another Minister. “