Ratepayers moot class action over council bills

19 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
Ratepayers moot class action over council bills Engineer Hosiah Chisango, Harare town clerk

Suburban

Suburban Reporter

Residents say the City of Harare has no leg to stand on in its bid to issue summons to recover billions of dollars from defaulting ratepayers because the bills are based on a chaotic billing system that can be challenged in the courts of law.

Reacting to reports that the city had started going after defaulters by issuing summons to recover the ZWL$1,5 trillion it claims it is owed, residents said they would take the fight to council and challenge the summons in the courts.

The Sunday Mail recently reported that council had started issuing summons to residents who have been defaulting paying rates.

Last month, the municipality claimed it was owed $1,5 trillion in local currency but the figure has since been revised following the introduction of a new currency, the Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG).

City of Harare spokesperson Mr Stanley Gama told The Sunday:

“The City of Harare has started issuing summons to residents, organisations and companies who have defaulted on paying rates,” he said.

“We, therefore, urge ratepayers to settle their debts before going through the inconvenience of being taken to court.”

In a notice on Wednesday, town clerk Engineer Hosiah Chisango advised ratepayers council had started going after those owing the municipality.

“The City of Harare has started issuing summons to residents, organisations and companies who have defaulted settling their debts. We therefore urge ratepayers to settle their debts before going through the inconvenience of being taken to court.

“Those who have been served with summons and are willing to settle or have settled can contact our accounts department to avoid court processes. Please contact the acting revenue manager Mr (Alfred) Guni on [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>,” Eng Chisango said.

But residents challenged the move arguing council had no basis to pursue the defaulters because its bills are based on a shambolic billing system while the city is charging residents for non-provided services such as water and refuse collection.

“With a messed up accounting system? Appear in court and have it all kicked out since no one gets bills anymore, plus a class action can be brought for total lack of delivery service, paying for what exactly?” a resident said during a discussion on the matter on the Mt Pleasant Constituency Forum.

Another resident observed: “Clearly the CoH (City of Harare) is on a very slippery position!”

Other residents welcomed the idea of a class action against the municipality’s attempt to make them pay for non-delivered services and unfair interests on bills.

“Class action (is) a very good idea, starting with, reverse interest, compound interest is illegal as is charging for services not supplied or no intention of supplying,” said another resident.

Mr Alfred Guni, Acting revenue manager City of Harare

On the Highlands Residents Association platform, residents expressed surprise at the municipality’s move wondering how can they send summons when they haven’t been sending out bill statements or invoices.

Some sought to know if the bills had already been converted into the ZiG currency and also lamented that they had to beg council to be issued bill statements even on its online platforms which are supposed to be easy and faster to use.

Residents said they sometimes get their bill statements from council on WhatsApp but have to try more than once to get the bills.

Other residents said the first rule of any business was to send out invoices and they did not see why they should take the trouble to request bill statements when it is the municipality’s job to provide these since the local authority knows every ratepayer’s account number.

The discussion heard that the municipality was trying to arm-twist ratepayers to repeatedly beg them for bill statements otherwise they will issue summons to residents.

Residents described the business model as strange.

In February, some Highlands residents revealed that they had stopped paying City of Harare bills until the municipality implements the 25 percent ward retention scheme under which a quarter of the revenue generated in a particular ward is retained in that ward to fund services.

In discussions on the Highlands Residents Association online platform, the residents said boycotting paying bills and rates until council fixes the collapse of service delivery was the ideal action to take for now.

The residents spoke about the frustrations they have to go through because of non-delivery of services by the City of Harare yet they pay their dues every month. Water and refuse collection, in particular, are among the services the city is failing to provide to residents but continues to bill them. Residents are having to rely on bulk water suppliers and private refuse collectors for these services.

The discussion started when one resident expressed their disgust over the fact that the City of Harare refuse collectors knocked on their gate asking for a Christmas present and they gave them the little they had but went on to leave their rubbish uncollected.

Describing the City of Harare’s actions as unbelievable, fellow residents said the municipality was not fit for purpose as it tends to disengage from real issues affecting the city and expends energy on irrelevant actions.

The residents said one way to react to the city’s ineptitude was stopping paying bills but it had to be all of them for the action to send a strong message.

Some Highlands residents told the discussion that they had since stopped paying waiting for the re-introduction of the 25 percent ward retention scheme.

Others said those who were still paying were the real problem because for as long as revenue continues to flow into the municipality’s coffers, it will remain business as usual with no change taking place in terms of service delivery.

A number of residents told the discussion that they had stopped paying and got plaudits for their decisions.

The City of Harare tried to introduce the 25 percent ward retention scheme some years back but the scheme failed to get traction.

The city says it is reviving the scheme as part of the decentralisation of services under its transformation strategy.

The city has not given timelines on when it wants to roll out the decentralisation programme.

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