by Open Parly Report
Between a hard surface and a rock may be the perfect statement, to sum up, the situation Harare City Council has found itself in after yielding in to pressure for the Council to cancel their contract with Well Cash Debt collecting company.
Despite the move being what ratepayers demanded, the council is owed over 650 million dollars and has somewhat crippled the council in providing quality service delivery.
Harare City Council Spokesperson, Michael Chideme said, “The debt collection was going well, the council was beginning to realise a lot more money. Money which was being directed towards service delivery but unfortunately the contract with our debt collector was terminated because it was felt that our customers were not so happy with the manner the debts were being collected, so the council was left with no option but to terminate the contract”.
As a way forward Chideme says, “we are instituting our internal debt collecting system so we hope we would be as effective as our debt collector was in collecting the debts from the people who owe council.”
While most ratepayers are economically hard-pressed, a crucial point that has led to the majority failing to service their debts Chideme says another reason debts are not being serviced is, “ …lack of appreciation of what that money is used for, our customers need to appreciate that money is meant for the services that they want, the services that they clamour for so once they pay that money it means those services will be coming their way.
Union of Residents and Ratepayers Association (ZURRA) spokesperson, Marvelous Khumalo says there is a culture of defaulting debts has been cultivated, “The cancellation of resident’s outstanding debts on the eve of the 2013 harmonised elections rewarded defaulters for non-payment of rates hence in so doing it promoted a culture of not paying so most of the residents are waiting for another reprieve since we are left with a few months before the elections in 2018. So people have no motivation to pay they are waiting for the government to consider again yet another reprieve of that nature.”
While some residents have argued it is pointless to pay for a service the council is not delivering, Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni who is also the reigning president of Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) has dismissed this view as a ‘very good excuse and only an excuse’.
The move by Zanu Pf government to write off debts in 2013 may have been a populist one which impressed millions who were in debt across the country but Manyeni paints a sad picture for councils post 2013, “Part of our current problem is that as local authorities we came in, in 2013 with all our receivables written off we had to start from ground zero, the very same residents expected service day one when there was no money, the very same residents as we speak now are sitting and waiting hoping that come 2018 another political decision will be made so the service is not going to come with no money, willpower is not going to deliver service, willpower alone is not enough, the desire by elected councillors to provide municipal services is very high but if there is no money service will not be forthcoming. “
As has been the case in Zimbabwean politics, handouts and materialism have dominated the political discourse and where the electorate is receiving very few question the motive or the long term effects. To date most of the councils across the country are only receiving half of what they are billing meaning they are experiencing 50 percent default and the debt keeps increasing annually.