Shambolic billing system haunts council

18 Nov, 2022 - 00:11 0 Views
Shambolic billing system haunts council Harare residents urged the city to explore alternative ways of raising revenue rather than depend entirely on property tax.


Suburban Reporter 

THE chaotic billing at the City of Harare was once again in the limelight at the presentation of the city’s 2023 budget last week.

Harare has since given itself a timeline of 14 days from Wednesday November 9, 2022 — when the budget was presented — to come up with a bridging enterprise resource planning (ERP) while awaiting the finalisation of the tender processes to acquire a new billing system.

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.  

“Your worship, the following key local government sector issues need to be urgently addressed dilapidated infrastructure, enterprise resource planning system, low revenue collection efficiency, Auditor General remarks, under exploited revenue base, lack of enforcement,” said Cllr Mande.

He said delays in resolving the ERP issue was seriously affecting council operations and eroding ratepayers’ confidence in the municipality.

“The delays in resolving ERP issues has led to the continued failure of the city to have timeous audited financial statements, effective revenue collection and plugging of revenue leakages. 

‘‘This is destroying residents’ confidence in the city and calls for expeditious procurement and operationalisation of an efficient ERP system. We have resolved to have a bridging ERP within the next fourteen days,” Cllr Mande told the budget presentation sitting. 

A recent special council meeting heard that a total of 18 Town House officials had schemed a foreign jaunt to earn themselves foreign currency allowances saying they needed to travel to South Africa and China to study how ERP systems work before recommending one for the municipality. 

 An enterprise resource planning ERP) system refers to a type of software that organisations use to manage day-to-day business activities such as accounting, procurement, project management, risk management, and compliance and supply chain operations. 

A complete ERP system also includes enterprise performance management, software that helps plan, budget, predict, and report on an organisation’s financial status. 

The special meeting heard that the officials wanted to travel to South Africa and China yet council used to run a same system. 

The meeting was also told that a number of Zimbabwean State enterprises are using similar systems and all the city bureaucrats needed was just to visit organisations such as power utility ZESA Holdings or the water authority, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority.

The meeting was briefed that efforts to come up with a new billing system to enable council to fix its billing woes had been hampered after the officials were barred from travelling to foreign countries to study systems being offered by companies that had tendered to supply the new billing system.

But Harare Mayor Councillor Jacob Mafume informed the meeting that nobody had been prevented from travelling but council was just being prudent in its financial spending because there had already been numerous unauthorised foreign travels this year.

He said the officials then tried to hoodwink council by claiming that the suppliers of the ERP systems were funding the foreign travels before they later came back with a request for funding from council saying the number had now been cut from 18 to eight.

The officials plot to milk ratepayers’ money was then exposed following these developments and the trip was aborted.

In July the municipality announced that it had flighted a tender for a new billing system following the numerous problems that have dogged the current system.

Then council said it expected the winning bidder to immediately provide the new billing system once the tendering process had been completed but it appears the process is going to drag just like many other council tenders. 

Since the withdrawal of the BIQ billing system in 2019, the municipality’s billing has been shambolic with the local authority battling with a new 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 left the municipality to rely on estimates, particularly on water charges, which residents felt was unfair because council tap water was not readily available to most of them. 

Residents are also being billed twice a month for refuse collection, which council is failing to provide.

Under the new system, council was urging residents to pay their bills while receipting was being done offline sometimes with no updates done on payments made.

The latest attempt to fix the billing mess follows challenges that the city says it has been having with its servers and storage.

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