Harare City Council has engaged debt collectors to recover more than $8 billion owed by ratepayers, some of which is owed by “difficult” customers.
In a notice on its social media platforms, Harare City said the debt was chocking its operations and affecting service delivery.
“Council is engaging debt collectors for difficult clients. This will enhance revenue collection and ensure all service consumers contribute towards service delivery.
“Council is owed more than $8 billion,” said council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme. The exercise was not targeting everyone, but those that have been reluctant to cooperate in the past.
“Not all debtors are being targeted including those with paltry amounts, but problem debtors are the ones to be pursued while their names will be published,” he said.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba said the local authority does not need to engage debt collectors to pursue difficult ratepayers and other debtors.
“They already have a credit control management division which is being paid for increasing the revenues of the City of Harare.
“It is unfortunate that the City of Harare has very lazy, corrupt and unethical senior employees who always seek the opportunity to engage external debt collectors as a way of getting kickbacks in commissions for the amount collected by debt collectors.
“Therefore, in a big way, the City of Harare is internally handicapped by incompetence of staff, and not necessarily by failure by ratepayers to pay their rates. The Council has itself largely to blame for coming up with an unsustainable budget which residents have no capacity to fund.”
Mr Shumba said the council should first put in place a credible, transparent and accountable billing system so that ratepayers are accurately and timely billed, with bills delivered to residents.
“Without a credible billing system, the City of Harare will continue to struggle to gain the trust and confidence of ratepayers.
“Incompetent personnel must be removed from strategic positions in order to let the council progress,” he said.
Combined Harare Residents Association programmes manager Mr Reuben Akili said roping in debt collectors was illegal in terms of the Legal Practitioners Act.
“There is a standing High Court ruling to that effect (HC 11442/17). Experience has taught us that besides legality of the use of debt collectors, the exercise benefits the debt collector more than the local authority.
“These machinations are also aimed at arm twisting residents to pay for services not rendered and also it comes against a background where the City’s billing system is shambolic,” he said. However, Mr Akili called upon residents to religiously pay their rates directly to council when they receive letters of demand from debt collectors.
“The city must address the fundamental issue which is causing residents and ratepayers not to pay in particular the billing system and service provision.
“We are informed by the City of Harare customer satisfaction survey report of 2020 that 98 percent of the residents were willing to pay for services provided,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Organisation of Associations and Residents Trust chairman Mr Shalvar Chikomba said the question is what has changed in terms of service delivery that warrants them to pay residents owes them.
“The city council owes residents, we have been paying for these services and they have not been delivering as per their mandate. The other factor why residents are not paying is that the rates are too exorbitant. Why cannot they make it affordable and deliver so that they collect 100 percent revenue.
“The council is failing to meet the basic rights of residents not because of revenue collection but gross mismanagement of available resources. We are in a pandemic that is wreaking havoc in society, therefore it’s not good timing for such a move,” he said.