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  • HRT position on the debt cancellation directive from Minister Chombo
    Harare Residents' Trust (HRT)
    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.

    Minister Chombo's 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 the line.

    Engineer Mudzuri 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.

    While residents 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.

    Residents are 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.

    In response 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.'

    The organisation 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.

    Going forward, the HRT makes the following recommendations;

    • The principle of debt cancellation should be applauded by all citizens
    • Residents 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 council.
    • 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 sheet

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