HARARE – Harare City Council’s plans to install pre-paid water meters are facing stiff resistance from residents who see this as “corruption-driven” desire than a genuine cause to improve billing.
Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki this week spoke with Harare Residents Trust (HRT) boss Precious Shumba and below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Why are you, as a representative of Harare residents, rejecting the introduction of the pre-paid water meters?
A: There is very little information that has come to us from the City of Harare. This implies that the City of Harare is not being inclusive in its planning and implementation of projects.
Q: Have you been consulted by the city council and what are your recommendations?
A: There has not been engagement on this matter, so we are in the dark about this project.
The HRT recommends full engagement and dialogue among key local government stakeholders, including the residents, in line with the new Constitution which specify that local authorities are accountable to the residents within their areas of jurisdiction.
Is it a project lobbied by consumers or by senior council management?
Who is pushing to have pre-paid water meters? Where there are bulk water meters in the flats in the Avenues area, council should make available the regular water meters as they did in Chizhanje and Mabvuku, because that is another incomplete project, and now they are introducing another project.
We smell real corruption. They must first complete the new meter installation project across the city suburbs and measure its impact.
Q: Do you have a case study where the pre-paid water system has worked and where do your reservations about the system being introduced here, stem from?
A: At this stage the question of a case study should not be a priority. What should guide council’s development projects, meant for the convenience of the consumers is to prioritise what the consumers need.
In Uganda’s Kampala, a pilot project was conducted with mixed reactions. KwaZulu Natal in South Africa experienced demonstrations by communities who resisted the project which has not been fully implemented.
The HRT will fully support this project once the council has changed its ‘‘them and us’’ attitude when dealing with key stakeholders. For now the project appears more of a fundraising project than a consumer-driven project.
We can only speculate that the project is being introduced to address the issues raised by tenants in the Avenues who share one bulky meter and conflicts usually arise from unequal usage of the water.
Residents in the northern and eastern suburbs will also benefit because they are being charged consumption for non-delivery of water.
Q: Water minister Savior Kasukuwere has said he will back the pre-paid water system if it is backed by service delivery. What is the current state of service delivery in Harare?
A: Minister Kasukuwere should not divorce himself from the majority of the population who are struggling to buy food, to send children to school and pay their monthly rates and rentals among other
The residents are more than willing to pay for services rendered to them but the majority are struggling to make ends meet given the economic and social conditions currently prevailing in the country.
For starters, introducing a project by conducting a pilot study targeting the employed people in the avenues is ill-advised and does not produce a balanced outcome reflecting the capacities of the general citizenry to pay for their water consumption and does not consider availability of water and quality.
Instead of focusing on trying to widen the scope of revenue generation from unrendered services, the City of Harare should prioritise upgrading its water pumping capacity and repair underground water and sewerage pipes, especially along the distribution network, given the increasing population, and the length of time taken without any upgrades.
It is critical now that they have secured a $144 million loan facility from the Chinese Import and Export bank.
As the HRT, we strongly suspect that the introduction of the pre-paid water meters is only meant to enable the council to raise funds to repay the loan, whose terms and conditions remain secretive.
The loan was secured without any productive engagement with the citizenry, who shall be burdened with the responsibility of loan repayment.
Service delivery in Harare is erratic. There are inconsistent to zero water supplies to the northern and eastern suburbs; waste management is erratic and citizens involvement in decision making is partial and largely cosmetic.
Street lights are mostly dysfunctional.
Housing delivery is nonexistent, yet residents have spent years on the housing waiting list without being allocated residential stands, but still have to pay the $6 administration charges every year at the Housing and Community Services department at Remembrance Drive District Offices.
Q: As HRT how can you influence improvement in service delivery and what ratio is sustainable in terms of revenue expenditure i.e. percentage of salaries against service delivery?
A: We have remained non-partisan and productively engaged with key stakeholders.
Conducting research on key areas of service provision including studies on the ideal model for improved revenue collection and citizens’ participation in decision-making at community level up to the metropolitan level.
The HRT has continued to identify areas of greatest need, and raise them either through the media, or individually engaging with respective heads of departments and councillors to ensure that they respond positively to the expressed needs of the communities.
Mass mobilisation has been our strategy.
This has been our major impact as an institution, where we stand guided by the communities in our various engagements with the City of Harare and the ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.
The ideal ratio, from our own analysis would be 70 percent for service delivery and 30 percent for salaries, allowances and administration costs.
However, this has largely failed because there is lack of accountability and transparency in the running of council affairs.
The municipality has neglected, without any reason, council beer halls, revenue streams from community halls, parking and traffic controls.
We have reason to believe that more revenue can be raised from properties located in the central business district if they regularly conduct blitzes to ensure every business operation in every floor complies with council regulations and by-laws.
Reports indicate that a lot of business operations are not remitting any rentals and rates to the council owing to a corrupt network of council employees who pocket the revenue instead of council benefiting from its asset base.
Q: How effective are you in influencing changes at Town House given that residents have battled inflated bills and suspicious billing system?
A: The HRT has made the necessary and strategic noise concerning billing, resulting in the introduction of water-marked receipts following rampant acts of theft of council revenue by senior managers working in cahoots with low-ranking officials in the treasury and water departments.
Through the HRT’s efforts at community mobilisation, the City of Harare conducted budget consultative meetings that had respectable attendances.
What however, remains is the content of the consultations and the manner of conducting the consultative meetings.
It is our responsibility and obligation as a residents’ body to assist the local authority make the best out of existing circumstances to increase revenue collection, improve water delivery, waste management, and general service provision.
The question of city billing is an area that has not been fully attended to by the council management, deliberately we think, because they have engaged a South African, only identified as Danny to develop the BIQ system of billing which is porous and open to manipulation by those with access codes.
By implication, we strongly suspect that senior managers in council who have vehemently resisted moves to improve the billing system have so much to lose if this system is removed, and replaced by a new one, more secure, transparent and flexible with data capturing.
Q: In the aftermath of debt relief, have you established the correct billing system for high density areas and low density areas?
A: This can best be addressed by the councillors through the committees and the full council, by making resolutions on the best way forward on improving current billing system than to keep a faulty billing system that discourages residents to pay their bills, because even when residents pay, the bills do not reflect the payments made until later.
Plus the City of Harare changed its due dates from the 7th of every month to the last day of the month, and this was not properly communicated, meaning the council charges residents for interest on overdue accounts after missing the due dates.
This must be addressed in line with residents’ expectations.
Council management should not impose their ideas and will on the citizenry.
That is a policy-making issue that must be dealt with by our elected councillors led by Mayor Manyenyeni.
Q: How are you dealing with the complaints by residents that the Harare City Council billing is shambolic, extortionate and criminal?
A: The organisation records every case brought to its attention and forwards the complaints with recommendations to the respective authorities so that they address the expressed concerns.
Regularly HRT coordinators go into the communities for the purposes of simply recording residents’ cases and individually helping them to find solutions.
We specifically follow up on the issues raised until a solution has been found.
Further, the HRT conducts focus group discussions and public meetings within communities where we educate residents on their rights, obligations and responsibilities as individuals and within their respective communities.
They also share their own personal experiences and get motivated by sharing their own stories.
Q: What are key priority areas in terms of delivery for Harare?
A: Citizens’ involvement in council’s programmes and projects should be taken as a first step in addressing the multiple challenges affecting citizens and the city as a public service provider.
No council project should be allowed to prevail over citizens’ demands, and the citizens must be fully recognised as equal partners in the administration of council affairs.
The council is top-heavy with several directors earning beyond the capacity of the council to pay, yet junior council employees are earning very little to sustain their lives, and those in danger of toxic substances are not given protective clothing.
Council books of accounts are not current as the last audit was reportedly done in 2009, meaning the council has continued to come up with new budgets ever since without fully acquitting the previous budgets.
Residents deserve to know how much they raised, and what they used the money for, and get auditors’ recommendations as part of monitoring and evaluation tools to improve service provision and efficiency.