- The demand for full payment of debts comes at a time when the local authority is not providing the services which it is claiming payment for which some areas have gone for more than 10 years without water, roads flooded with sewer and piles of uncollected garbage have become permanent features in high density areas.
THE Harare City Council is threatening to unleash debt collectors, disconnect water supplies and take legal action on all ratepayers who are in arrears, but a leading residents organisation says the amounts which the City is claiming to be owed are founded on a chaotic, shambolic and non-functional billing system.
In some parts of Harare, the Local authority has dispatched letters of demand in a bid to coerce ratepayers to pay their dues.
“Before commencing legal proceedings in terms of the legislation, I am obliged to demand full payment of the amount stated above within 14 days of this notice, failing which, legal action will be effected without further warning to you, with costs charge to your account”, reads part of the letter from the Treasury Department.
A New Mabvuku resident who was in receipt of the letter of “final demand” from the local authority said, “It should be residents dragging the Council to court for non-provision of services, right now I live with raw sewerage which they can’t repair, no water we will also organize court action this is not fair.”
“I have paid every month my rates in full but am surprised that I now owe council ZWL30 000”, said a dejected Highfields woman.
The City is also threatening to disconnect water supplies to all its debtors and claims that it is now owed ZWL$5 Billion.
The demand for full payment of debts comes at a time when the local authority is not providing the services which it is claiming payment for which some areas have gone for more than 10 years without water, roads flooded with sewer and piles of uncollected garbage have become permanent features in high density areas.
On its social media platform, the Harare City Council has warned “Will soon deploy debt collectors to collect all outstanding amounts. The best thing is to do a payment plan now.”
In 2018, the use of debt collectors was declared unlawful after Well Cash Debt Collectors who were hired by the City of Harare were declared unlawful as it violated section 9(2)(b) of the Legal Practitioners Act 27:07.
Residents are entitled to law and have a legal right to administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and fair in terms of Section 68 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The recent astronomic increases of rates by more than 400% premised on a faulty software currently used for billing by the local authority have casted doubt over the authenticity of the Council bills, says the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA).
“Some residents who have been religiously paying rates received ballooned bills with payments they have made to the local authority not captured or deducted.
“Ratepayers across the City have been flocking to CHRA offices seeking for assistance over their ballooned bills,’ said CHRA in a statement.
CHRA reiterated its position that the amounts which the City is claiming to be owed are founded on a chaotic, shambolic and non-functional billing system hence there is a need for a real debt audit for the City debt.
CHRA also warned ratepayers not to be coerced to enter into payment plans on amounts of debts they are not agreeable to with the local authority and they should pay for services rendered.
“We further call upon the City of Harare to depart from the SAGE Pastel software it is using for billing and payments and find an effective software that has the ability to show the balance after payments are made in real time.”
However, the City of Harare hit back ar CHRA saying the unleashing of debt collectors on residents must actually be commended as revenues were declining due to nonpayment, thereby crippling service delivery.
“It’s true Harare City Council is on a drive to collect all the money it is owed by residents. Council has been under attack for poor service delivery because it has not been fully enforcing debt collection,” Council said.
“There is no war against residents. Actions towards debt collection should be viewed in the positive because the net effect is to ensure residents receive services. Non payment of bills kills service delivery, brings diseases and erases progress that has been achieved to date.” – Zimbabwe Voice/CHRA ■