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Hot Seat: Harare mayor and residents rep. in heated debate over water crisis
Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
June 12, 2013

Violet’s guests on the Hot Seat programme are Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda and Precious Shumba, representing disgruntled residents in the capital. They debate the serious water crisis in the city which has seem the central business district going without water for days, forcing some employers to send their workers home. As usual many residential areas have been without water for months. Why does Shumba say the ‘know it all attitude’ of the Mayor is hindering progress and why decisions being made by Masunda will leave residents exposed to huge Chinese debts?

Violet Gonda: There are fears of another disease outbreak as Harare is yet again gripped by serious water shortages prompting some companies in the CBD to send their employees home. To discuss this worsening crisis is Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda and Precious Shumba from the Harare Residents Trust. I started by asking Shumba to give us an update of the water situation in the capital.

Precious Shumba: From the reports that we have received today and two days ago, many suburbs have not had water for the last seven days. In areas like Highfields, some households in Old Highfields have not had water in the past nine days and it’s getting to two weeks now without the situation being addressed. In the eastern suburbs the situation is still the same – they are not getting consistent water supplies; they say they are getting water maybe once or twice a month. And in the northern suburbs most people do not receive municipal water from the City of Harare.

Gonda: Mayor Masunda, what can you say about this and also the Herald said that some employees had to give their workers time off as the water shortages continue in the CBD.

Masunda: I will be the first to admit that we have had more than our usual fair share of problems with regard to the production and distribution of water. The production has plummeted from the normal of between 620 to 640 megalitres for two reasons. One we ran, not completely out of stock, of aluminum sulphate but the stocks were at unacceptably low levels and one of the basic things that we simply cannot do is to pump water into the system if it has not been treated. So the aluminum sulphate is supplied by Zimphos, Zimbabwe Phosphate Industry; they had a bit of a problem I am told in terms of the bauxite that they import from Mozambique but that situation I am told as of the 3rd of June has since been rectified.

The other problem that we have had for quite a while now is the unacceptably high amount of water that we are losing through leakages between 40 and 50% of treated water. And we’ve been talking to government, as one of our major debtors, to do everything humanly possible to clear their arrears that we are owed. The amount that we are owed by government ministries and departments is now in excess of $130 million and out of that we’ve just been asking for at least $20 million; $2 million of which we are going to spend on procuring these pressure reducing valves, PRVs, in order to reduce the leakages that I’ve mentioned. And then the $40 million we are going to spend on procuring pipes because a lot of pipes, especially in the high-density areas, are long overdue for replacement and we have an order for piping equivalent to 150 kilometres so that we can do something similar to what we did in the CBD way back in 2009.

Gonda: I understand that the Finance Minister pledged to give the Council $120 million for the upgrade of the water infrastructure in Harare so what has happened to that money?

Masunda: That $144 million which our minister of Finance was talking about I think a week or so ago, is actually the money that we ourselves negotiated successfully from the Chinese Export and Import Bank. That money is going to go towards the rehabilitation of the sewerage infrastructure and we will see a recovery of anything between 20 and 40 megalitres of water from our wastewater and that water is going to be pumped back into the system and enhance the production. So it’s not new money.

Gonda: But Precious Shumba… (interrupted)

Masunda: It is not new money and I think you must understand that. Government still owes us in excess of 130 million. All that’s happened, I think a week or so ago, is that our Minister of Finance went to China to consummate the loan facility that we had successfully negotiated with those Chinese financial institutions.

Gonda: So Precious Shumba what do you make of these statements by the Mayor? Are you reassured?

Shumba: The Mayor being the head of the Harare Municipality has a responsibility to respond to all enquiries concerning what they are doing and he can’t say ‘we are doing nothing’. We have been hearing about the $144 million loan facility from the Chinese Export and the Import Bank and this loan facility will be repaid by the residents of Harare. What is happening to the water revenue being generated by the City of Harare? To what extent are they directing that money towards maintenance, plugging the leakages along the distribution network and ensuring that citizens at least have water in their households?

What we are hearing from the Mayor are promises and pledges by the Chinese and it’s not cheap money that he’s talking about. Who was part of the discussion to say yes? The councilors might have authorized the Town Clerk, the Mayor and others to negotiate for this loan but at what percentage to the ratepayer? And these guys will be leaving council soon and obviously the people who will come will also be handling it in another way. We would prefer a situation where the current revenue being generated from the water services and sewerage services that they charge to residents is ploughed back into the maintenance and probably replacement done in a phased-system approach rather than to say we are going to do 150 kilometres. That is a long-term project if you ask me. It needs a phased approach where they will use currently available resources than to go on the market to get expensive money that will be paid over a long period of time, probably in 25 years and the residents are not getting what they deserve.

The City is failing to prioritise on what they need to do on the water crisis. They are not sitting down in council and coming up with a consolidated resolution on how to approach external stakeholders like the International, the UNICEF that was previously there, the government. Instead they are approaching the ministries, that is not the stakeholder approach we are expecting because residents as we speak do not have water and do not have to wait for the approval of the Chinese loan where the minister went there a fortnight ago but still residents are not getting water bowsers in their communities – kuti vakwanise kumwa mvura everyday pavanonga vachidira (to drink water everyday and anytime they want), because now the new constitution recognizes this right to water to every citizen.

Gonda: Precious Shumba raises some very important points here, in this day and age and in the capital city of all places, residents should not be going without water for days and in this case, some have gone without water for months. The situation is really bad and many people are worried that there will be major outbreaks of waterborne diseases again in the city. So one of the questions that Precious Shumba has asked is what is happening to the revenue coming from the residents? Why is that money not being put into repairing the infrastructure?

Masunda: Can I assure everybody, the listeners, Precious Shumba included that the little money that we’ve been able to collect, all of it has been ploughed back into rehabilitating the infrastructure. On water and sanitation alone, since we came into office on the 1st of July we have spent over 20 million dollars rehabilitating the sewerage infrastructure, which was completely dysfunctional when we came into office in July 2008. And what I think needs to be borne in mind is that there is no big brother behind the City of Harare in terms of a ‘big brother has got very deep pockets’.

We generate our own revenue, which we plough back into the system. We are not a profit-making organization but we should not be a loss-making organization either. Residents that Precious Shumba’s organization together with CHRA, Combined Harare Residents Association, represent, they themselves owe us a substantial sum of money, which is in excess of 70 million. So the amounts owed to the City are creeping closer to 400million; almost 150million owed by government, another over 100 owed by the corporate entities and even local authorities like Chitungwiza owe us almost 50 million dollars.

So people there has to be a mind set, a paradigm shift, and this is where I need the collaboration of Precious Shumba and Simbarashe Moyo because they are the ones who are heading up two of what I would say are the largest stakeholder organizations (Harare residents associations), and we need to be putting our heads together and addressing the issues that need to be addressed and not playing the blame game.

The issue that Precious raised about this loan facility that we managed to put together from China – as it is, there are no lines of credit which most international financial institutions are prepared to make available to Zimbabwe. And sitting where I sit the hottest seat in Zimbabwe, I don’t care about the colour of the cash and so that is how we managed to negotiate this loan facility on a arms length basis and the interest rates are not as extortionate as portrayed by Precious Shumba… (interrupted)

Shumba: So what is the percentage?

Masunda: … the comforting thing is that all this was done on an arms length basis and the lenders of the money are assured of the integrity of our assets and the capacity to repay the loan.

Gonda: What are the interest rates?

Masunda: The interest rates are not as extortionate as I said…

Gonda: Yes but how much are they?

Masunda: The international norm is around between six and eight per cent per annum and we managed to get a concessionary and favourable rate. I can’t tell you off hand I haven’t got the documents in front of me but we are not fools you know.

Shumba: (LAUGHS)

Masunda: We are not fools and we will not have agreed and signed up for that loan facility if we were going to be charged the sort of rates we were seeing during the hyperinflation environment.

Gonda: But surely Mr Masunda if you know the amount that you have been given and on such an important issue like this, you should know what the interest rate is.

Masunda: Yes that is between six and eight per cent; that is the norm in… (interrupted)

Shumba: But what is…

Gonda: Precious, Precious we will come to you.

Masunda: Precious Shumba I didn’t interrupt you when you were speaking and so please be courteous enough to let me respond without interrupting! But we are satisfied and we checked with our financial advisers, the City Treasurer and we’re happy.

Precious Shumba raised a very pertinent point earlier when he said we have been hearing about this loan from China for quite a while, how come the disbursement has taken this long to start happening. After we had successfully concluded the loan facility the Chinese Exim Bank shifted the goal posts and all of a sudden out of the blue we were being asked as City of Harare to fulfill obligations that the government of Zimbabwe had incurred in respect of loans to ZISCO, amongst others, and all those things have zero to do with the City of Harare. And it took a trip that the Prime Minister Morgan Richard Tsvangirai undertook to China around September last year, to convince the Chinese government and the financial institutions concerned that the City of Harare is an autonomous entity. We don’t get any funding from government. So the Chinese operate on the basis that everything that happens in China, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in Beijing, Shanghai or wherever, is funded by government. So it’s up until recently that the Chinese authorities accepted that that situation is possible but even then they insisted that we had to pay $40 million dollars before we could start drilling down on this $144.

Gonda: Precious Shumba?

Shumba: Our major concern is the opaque manner in which they are handling public affairs. For example the Mayor is going on the standard or the international norm of six to eight percent but he is not being specific, he is not being exact, meaning to say we can even speculate that the interest rate could be as high as 15% as we have been hearing from some of the council employees. We are concerned that some of the decisions being made are leaving residents exposed to huge debts from the Chinese bank. While we applaud the Mayor and his team for taking this initiative to raise funds we would prefer that the residents that we met in Mabvuku yesterday and that we met today as the leadership of the residents council of the Harare Residents Trust are determined to ensure that the City of Harare declares that water is a crisis on our hands requiring a stakeholder meeting to discuss this and hear alternative approaches to raising funds and dealing with this water crisis. The long term approach of the City of Harare that we have we need Kunzvi Dam is a non-starter because we have heard presentations from experts in the City of Harare that Harare does not need Kunzvi Dam but it needs to refocus its priorities and fully utilize available resources and make water available.

Alternatively the City of Harare must be making available water bowsers in some of the areas that were hardest hit during the cholera outbreak of 2008 to early 2009 like Budiriro, like Kuwadzana, like Dzivarasekwa, where residents have a water reservoir that has remained dysfunctional for a very long time despite repeated promises from the municipality.

Masunda: Precious Shumba waxes lyrical about water bowsers but where would those water bowsers come from? Using what capital? And if only Precious Shumba and Simbarashe Moyo were to prevail upon the people that they purport to represent to prioritise the payment of their bills, give the same priority that they give to their cell phone bills and DSTV licences because the residents themselves, or as I indicated earlier, owe close to $80 million.

It’s all very well for Precious Shumba to talk about water bowsers procured with what? Where’s the money going to come from to procure those water bowsers? Right now on Friday for instance, we will be unveiling a fleet of 27 refuse compactors, there are a total of 32 that we have procured using money that we borrowed from bank ADC.

I now have a situation where each of the 46 wards in Harare is going to have a dedicated refuse removal truck. And if you go to any of these high-density areas you’ll see the work that we’ve done clearing illegal dumps and doing all sorts of things. We have a budget, a revenues/expenditure budget in excess of $600 million dollars. It needs $67 million to do the road network, we need another 50 to address all these water blues that we are talking about and we’ve done a magnificent job.

We’ve also completed the clinic at Kuwadzana, we’ve completed the clinic at Budiriro; we have a total of 14 polyclinics that double up as maternity centres. We are delivering over 2 200 babies a month. You know it is a huge undertaking and we employ 9 500 people and it used to 11 887 when we started. It’s a huge undertaking. This is not for the faint hearted, armchair warriors like Precious Shumba and Simbarashe Moyo.

Gonda: Precious Shumba the mayor raises an important question because you actually asked what is happening to the revenue coming from the residents and according to Mr Masunda your organization and also the Combined Harare Residents Association are among the groups or organizations including government departments that have not been paying their bills to the council. So what can you say about this?

Shumba: The Mayor is exaggerating the success of the City of Harare in dealing with service delivery issues. Let’s talk about the availability of water and what the City has done. We have been talking to officers in the City Treasury; of the around 58 million that they collected between March, April and May, they have used nearly 52% of that amount towards payment of salaries and allowances for their senior managers. And the Mayor needs also to be cognizant of the fact that residents are struggling to even raise money for their own rentals in their houses. They are refusing to separate the rates from the water bills so that people are able to tell how much they owe in terms of water. They are simply bunching everything to say it’s because people are not paying for water.

The City of Harare has been requested to separate the bills, as was the case before, where residents would pay for their water bills but the City of Harare would not deliver water and would not collect rates yet for two years they were collecting money for refuse. Residents that the Mayor claims owe the City of Harare; for example if you go to Glen Lorne, Borrowdale, Mount Pleasant, Greendale, Highlands, Mabvuku and Tafara, talking of those it’s not in an eastern suburb, residents have not received consistent water supplies in a whole year. Some people have had tap water maybe for only 12 days yet they have been charged fixed water supplies amounting to 11 dollars in the northern suburbs and around $6.50 for those in the high density areas, or five dollars.

We are expecting the Mayor to talk about what that amount has been used for and why they have diverted nearly 52% of the generated revenue between March, April and May where they have been unable to communicate effectively what is happening. Where they hide the information, residents have a legitimate right to raise these issues because we don’t get what is happening. He talks about the issues where they have borrowed money from bank ADB but all that money would need to be repaid. It’s not like they’ve been given cheap money. At what interest are they bonding the City of Harare, the city residents?

We are concerned that the Mayor is being academic, and he is being retrogressive by trying to undermine the significant role that resident associations play in building community interest in what the City is doing.

Gonda: Granted Precious, but what about the question that I asked you that why are you yourselves not paying your bills?

Shumba: I think you would need to appreciate that at the coming in of the inclusive government in February 2009, most residents were using the useless money or bearer cheques that were produced by the RBZ and were paying in advance because they couldn’t get change so they would pay ten trillion dollars into the City account.

Masunda: … sighs

Shumba: … And when the US multi currency regime was introduced in February, the City, the expectations of most citizens is that the City was supposed to start at zero zero for every household. Unfortunately they used I think a black market rate to convert the owings of residents. You would realize that if you go to Majubheki right now, most of them have February 2009 bills that indicated that they owed the City of Harare around 53 US dollars. That to us is the ripping of residents and coupled with their initial interest that they charged residents they were using around 51% that they have charged on the Zim dollar, they still continued until around July 2009 they were still charging that as interest. Instead of being per annum, they were doing it per month, meaning to say residents were saddled with huge debts that were not cleared.

The huge amounts that residents allegedly owe are based on those, say water, estimates because they were not even sending council workers to read their water meters. But that is not justification enough. Residents are not paying because most of them don’t have that money.

The City of Harare is also not addressing its billing system, which keeps recording that B.I.Q system, which is ripping off residents because they charge for a zone but when people pay, the money does not reduce in the resident’s accounts.

Gonda: Mr Masunda you don’t sound convinced by Precious Shumba’s explanation. I heard you laughing in the background. Can you tell us why?

Masunda: It’s a complete fallacy, in fact it’s a lie that we converted the Zim dollars to US dollars using some black market rate following the advent of the dollarization in our economy. Like everyone else we wrote off all the Zim dollar denominated balances… (Interrupted)

Shumba: That’s not true, that’s not true, that’s not true.

Masunda: … all that has happened is that the constituency that is served by HRT and CHRA is that they have failed or either deliberately or for reasons Shumba has stated, have failed to pay the bills that were presented to them upon the advent of dollarization because at that time in February 2009 the US dollar was scarce, it was impossible especially for the poorer members of the community to access US dollars, I accept that. But over time, as the situation improved somewhat they should have prioritized the payment of those bills in the same way that they give priority to their cell phone bills and DSTV bills.

But secondly Precious Shumba has a point about the B.I.Q billing system which was not producing the kind of results that we would have liked but we have since, with the assistance of Munich and the Federal Ministry of International Cooperation and Development in Germany, had two ICT experts, Shepherd Mushayavanhu who lives in Hamburg and who has done so for about 30 years and Suzanne Smit. They are paid for by the City of Munich and the German government, they’ve been with us for the last three years revamping our billing system. So we produce composite bills, which is what the people said they wanted, they didn’t want to be presented with two bills one for water, one for rates and in the case of high-density areas, supplementary charges as we call them.

So now if it is indeed the wishes of the people that Precious Shumba and Simbarashe Moyo represent that we revert to the system where we present separate bills for water and rates and supplementary charges, we’d be more than happy to do that if that is the general consensus. But our information is that people prefer getting a composite bill.

Now Rome wasn’t rebuilt in a day, if we were to all continue in that frame of mind as portrayed by Precious Shumba of wanting to play blame games then we’re not going to get anywhere. The 11 dollars that he mentions goes towards infrastructure development. In a normal situation, these infrastructure projects are not funded by borrowed monies; Precious has got a point because that borrowed money is comparatively more expensive than the money that is usually used traditionally. We use capital markets, we float municipal bonds and government bonds but because of the mess in which our economy is, you know because it was a politically induced socio-economic meltdown we have not seen any thriving capital markets in the manner that we used to see them in the past.

Gonda: You mentioned that government departments also owe the City a lot of money so what measures are you taking to ensure that… (interrupted)?

Masunda: There are a whole raft of measures.

Gonda: A lot of residents are also complaining that they get their supplies disconnected and yet you have individuals in government who owe money to the City.

Masunda: … individuals within government are not treated as sacred cows. It’s government departments and ministries, which we have to negotiate payment terms and for instance we are introducing all sorts of things obviously with the cooperation and assistance of the Minster of Finance with regards to setoff. Most ministers of finance don’t like setoff for obvious reasons because they have to collect all the revenue that is due and pay out what is owed. And we have a situation for instance to answer your question more specifically, where the Chitungwiza Town Council owes the City of Harare close to 50 million dollars and I’m under the cosh, pressure from the councilors and the workers. The workers are saying Mayor we’d rather go and collect the money from the residents in Chitungwiza ourselves because the Chitungwiza Town Council officials are collecting the money but they are not remitting it to us and the councilors are saying no they are not paying, cut them off. University of Zimbabwe owes us about $5 million… they cannot pay.

So as long as I’m Mayor of this city we are not going to cut of Chitungwiza because we have people that live in that dormitory town of Harare more people live in Chitungwiza than the whole of Botswana or Namibia we would have a major catastrophe on our hands if we were to switch off Chitungwiza. So cantonments, schools, universities, Cranborne Barracks, KGVI and Thompson Depot, those will never get cut off. So we just have to keep talking and talking until money becomes available.

Gonda: Precious Shumba final word?

Shumba: The City of Harare must begin to engage residents in a constructive manner rather than their approach where the know-it-all attitude of the Mayor is hindering progressive engagement to discuss progress and development with regards to making water available to every citizen. It’s a stakeholder matter that requires central government, local government and the local stakeholders including residents but the City of Harare must first admit that they have failed rather than the hide and seek where the Mayor is trying to evade issues. He must begin to be accountable as someone who is sitting in that seat on behalf of the residents of Harare.

Gonda: Mr Mayor when are you going to engage the residents and do you admit that you have failed on these issues?

Masunda: Well that is Precious’ view and he is perfectly entitled to it but all I can say as a parting shot is that we’ve got an open door policy; anybody who has got a constructive input to make towards making our city work and once we get our city to work, we’ll have got the country working, they are at liberty to come to Town House and we talk turkey.

Gonda: And when are we going to see an end to the water woes?

Masunda: Once all the stakeholders who owe money…

Shumba: (laughs)

Masunda: … ranging from residents, business people, government, the local authorities, once they start paying their bills and prioritizing payment of their bills in the same way as they do with their cell phones and DSTV, we’ll see a considerable improvement of the situation.

Gonda: Harare Mayor Much Masunda and Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba thank you very much for talking to us on the programme Hot Seat.

Masunda: Thank you Violet, take care.

Shumba: Thank you.

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