Rates increase create new tension between residents, council

01 Mar, 2024 - 00:03 0 Views
Rates increase create new tension between residents, council Residents paying rates at Rowan Martin Building.


Suburban Reporter

The City of Harare has increased rates by 246 percent in three weeks even though the exchange rate has moved by 23 percent, triggering a wave of protests from the capital city’s ratepayers.

Although the rates and service charges are pegged in United States dollars, most ratepayers pay in local currency with the city using the official exchange rate to calculate the local currency equivalent of   the charges.

In the past three weeks, the city has issued two sets of bills, the first on February 2 and the latest one on February 27, leaving ratepayers to question how the municipality justifies such increases in a single month.

Residents have been discussing the recent increases on their social media groups where they are once again arguing that the City of Harare has no justification to keep increasing its rates and services outside of the movements of the exchange rate because it was not providing any services.

Most suburbs in Harare have no council tap water while refuse is not collected. Several traffic lights in the city are not working, the same goes for street lights.   Some residents rely on bulk water suppliers and private refuse collectors for water and refuse collection and they feel it is unfair for the City of Harare to keep slapping them with huge bills when it is not providing the services.

This week residents from Avondale, Mt Pleasant, Hatfield, Greendale and Highlands were unanimous in their criticism of the municipality over the latest bills.

The residents bemoaned a situation where they were constantly in debt to the council despite concerted efforts to clear their balances. According to the residents, the city keeps raising bills especially for those residents who pay their bills religiously as a way of making up for the deficit of defaulting ratepayers.

In 2022, the City of Harare admitted that it penalises residents who paying their rates and service charges by raising their bills to cover up for the defaulting ratepayers.

A city official told Suburban then that a small percentage of residents were paying their monthly bills leaving the municipality with a paralysing deficit and unable to fund services.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the municipality uses the unethical and unfair strategy to keep afloat.

“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.

In Hatfield some residents said they received two bills in two weeks, the first on February 13 and the second one on February 27.

“I got two different bills in February on the 13th and the 27th. The one on 13 February had ZWL1 523 000 and today’s (27 February) ZWL2 308 739,” said a Hatfield resident.

Fellow Hatfield residents said the bills were not making sense while some said they resorted to paying physically at the City of Harare office at Old Mutual House along Agostinho Neto Avenue (formerly Speke Avenue) because they realised online payments were not being captured.

Residents also noted that the City of Harare’s billing system was always down these days as the city continues to fail to address its shambolic billing system. The perennial failure to fix the billing system has led to suspicions among residents that it was a ploy by city officials to milk them or corruptly line their own pockets.

“The shambolic council billing system is another contributory factor for it won’t allow anyone to be up to date. On the other hand, when ratepayers were up to date, the council did not provide adequate services. We are told council has a bloated workforce (not sure if this is true). If this is true, it means whatever council gets, it will go to salaries and not service delivery,” said a Hatfield ratepayer.

Another one added: “We have paid past three months and were given paper receipts because computers (were) off or something but those payments still have not been credited and today (Monday this week) we went to pay but were told the system was down so can’t take any payments. We were also told to get a full account we have to go to Rowan Martin. The depots (district offices) can only give total owed.”

Hatfield ratepayers spoke about how frustrating dealing with the City of Harare was saying the municipality’s attitude causes one to negate paying.

“You will never clear COH account mark my words and you will never win them,” observed a resident.

Ward 22 Councillor Clemence Maimba acknowledged the residents’ concerns saying council was trying to address them. Hatfield falls under Ward 22.

Residents from other parts of Harare said the municipality was forward costing to hedge against the depreciating local currency adding that Government’s decision not to allow the city to charge in foreign currency was crippling the local authority.

However, other residents said what was destroying Harare was years of failing to account for revenue received from ratepayers and services being charged and not delivered. They said ratepayers could not continue paying for non-delivered services and called for an independent audit of the city.

Former Harare mayor Mr Ben Manyenyeni weighed into the discussion on the Mt Pleasant Constituency residents’ platform basing his arguments from an insider’s position and drawing from his experiences as a former councillor and mayor.

“As your former councillor, I can tell you that even with an independent audit, there are no saints in this story of municipal service collapse. The effective collection rate for HCC is below 20 percent, which means every year, the council can only deliver 20 percent of its desires and promises. The city has lost the right pedigree of residents and ratepayers. The city has huge deficits in the 10 to 12 key requirements for a city, including the human element, i.e., elected representatives, appointed employees at all levels, and residents and ratepayers. Some of you may recall the term service deceivery which I coined to express the folly of promising or expecting service delivery when the factors on the ground clearly say it can’t,” Mr Manyenyeni said.

Residents on the platform said there is a need for a way forward to break the vicious circle of council failing to deliver services and residents refusing to pay rates. But some ratepayers felt the situation had changed as ratepayers were now unable and unwilling to keep paying for fraudulently charged services that are not delivered.

The discussion also heard that the few paying households were now being punished for trying to do the right thing with participants in the discussion calling for the dissolution of council and having central Government run the local authority so that ratepayers can hold it to account.

Arguments were also made for the council to sort out its shortcomings and stop making excuses over political interference because every other service provider works under a political system but some of the failures at the municipality have a lot to do with poor administration and planning.

Highlands residents described the council bills as made-up figures that are without doubt fraudulent and questioned whose RTGS salaries had increased by 100 percent since January this year.

Some residents said they were willing to pay in foreign currency but only on condition they have control of how their money was going to be used with others questioning what became of the 25 percent ward retention scheme under which wards would retain 25 percent of the revenue from rates and service charges for use to fund services in the wards.

It is not clear whether the 25 percent ward retention scheme will be incorporated into the proposed City of Harare’s decentralisation of services strategy.

So far, the city has only appointed regional managers for the various regions formed after the merging of suburbs and wards as implementation appears to be dragging.

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