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HRT position on the debt cancellation directive from Minister Chombo
July 23, 2013
The Harare Residents'
Trust (HRT) receives with caution the decision by the Minister of
Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Ignatius Chombo to
direct that all local authorities in Zimbabwe cancel all debt accrued
by residents from February 2009 to 30 June 2013.
approach is similar in nature to the directive issued by the then
Minister of Energy and Power Development Engineer Elias Mudzuri
in April 2009 directing that residents in low density areas should
pay US$40 for electricity consumption while those in the high density
should pay US$30, his solution to the exorbitant bills that residents
were getting from the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA).
Still, ZESA went on to disconnect all defaulters three months down
was commended by the residents, because he immediately responded
to the calls for a review of bills by electricity consumers. To
residents, leadership must timeously respond when consumers of services
raise legitimate concerns.
across Harare welcome the principle of debt cancellation, as provided
by legislation, the timing of the action remains suspicious. As
the citizenry celebrate this belated victory on debt accumulated
by residents, mostly unjustified, and unrelated to services rendered,
it is important to acknowledge that the HRT mobilised plus three
thousand Harare residents to sign a petition on 19 October 2012,
handed to the deputy mayor Emmanuel Chiroto and copied to the Minister
of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development among other stakeholders.
demanding the cancellation of all debt accrued from February 2009
to 31 December 2010, a period when the City of Harare evidently
did not provide essential refuse and water services to the majority
of the citizenry. During this cited period, life was extremely difficult,
economically and socially for residents, and the council experienced
this hardship, no doubt.
To our dismay
the Mayor of Harare Muchadeyi Masunda was reluctant to engage on
this issue of service delivery and debt cancellation, viewing council
business as a profit-making organisation, which it is not.
to Masunda's reluctance to lead conclusive discussion on the residents'
petition in council, the residents of Harare, backed by the HRT,
then led a demonstration in Harare on 6 November 2012 at Town House,
still demanding the cancellation of all debts accrued by residents
from February 2009 and 31 December 2010. These bills are based on
estimates, and the City of Harare continued to charge residents
51 percent interest on overdue accounts, causing most bills to rise.
All those residents with debts from 1 January 2011 to the present
should have their bills re-calculated, reflecting the actual debt
situation. This is the demand of the HRT. Our expectation then was
that the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development,
should have acted, facilitated dialogue among City of Harare, residents,
business and industry, and or directed the City Council to respond
to the demands of the residents timeously, in a concrete manner.
The action taken by Minister Chombo is commendable in as far as
the legal provisions cited in the Urban
Councils Act (Chapter 29.15) and the Rural District Councils
Act (Chapter 29.13) is concerned.
It is our hope
that genuine dialogue is pursued among all stakeholders with an
urgent desire for a win-win situation as a way forward. This is
in line with the HRT's mission of 'building capacity for productive
engagement among service providers, residents, and their elected
representatives as means to improve living standards in communities.'
is concerned mostly that Minister Chombo did not act on the petition
by the HRT in October and November 2012. It is important to note
here that while this directive will impact negatively on the income
generated by the City of Harare, it is now more critical that the
incoming council at Town House should handle this matter with sensitivity
because residents face daily hardships, which they hope to overcome,
and any relief given is most welcome.
the HRT makes the following recommendations;
- The principle
of debt cancellation should be applauded by all citizens
should not be billed for refuse not collected; water not supplied,
and estimate water consumption. All interests charged on overdue
accounts should be reviewed to at most five percent per annum
and not the current 10 percent.
- The incoming
parliament should repeal the Urban Councils Act to ensure the
full participation of residents in the affairs of the council,
and also define the roles and responsibilities of councillors.
- The Minister
should review his decision, by possibly putting a maximum monetary
figure of debt to be cancelled, or alternatively taking cognisant
of the HRT's call for total debt cancellation for the period of
February 2009 to 31 December 2010.
- The City
of Harare, in collaboration with its stakeholders can undertake
a means testing to determine what amounts owed should be repaid
by individual debtors. This will help the local authority to share
the experiences of the communities in meeting their financial
obligations, and also evaluating the abilities of the people to
repay their debts.
- Budget formulation
by the City of Harare should be stakeholder-driven with proposals
guided by the ability of the residents to fund the budget. Currently,
budgets produced by the City of Harare are not linked to the incomes
of the average resident, resulting in a lot of debts not being
cleared at all, becoming bad debts on the books of accounts of
- The City
of Harare should produce audited books of accounts, a legal obligation
the local authority has failed to do since 2009. Ironically, the
City of Harare has continued to formulate new budgets, yet there
is no way residents have access to crucial information on how
the revenue generated has been utilised, and for what purposes.
- The incoming
council to be elected on 31 July 2013 should review all policy
decisions that are being made by the commission currently running
the affairs of Harare of Provincial Administrator Alfred Tome
and Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi, from the time the council was
'dissolved' by the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural
Development until the day a new council is installed at Town House.
Visit the Harare
Residents' Trust fact
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