BY TAPFUMANEI MUCHABAIWA
CASH-STRAPPED Harare City Council has announced plans to convert residents’ outstanding Zimbabwe dollar bills to United States dollars to preserve the value of the money if the debts remain unpaid in the coming three months.
Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said the decision was made after it emerged that the US$17 billion owed by residents in unpaid bills was affecting service delivery.
“Residents, who fail to retire their debts within three months of being invited to negotiate payment plans, will have their outstanding debts converted to United States dollars at the interbank rate. Council is owed over US$17 billion,” Chideme said.
“Money owed to the council is losing value daily and when it is paid, it will not meet its budgeted targets. Hedging the debts against the US dollars will help the council maintain value when it’s finally paid.”
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Precious Shumba said the move was unjustified.
“Without undertaking means testing to establish the levels of household economy among ratepayers, the rates charged by the City of Harare are only informed by measures outside the life of residents. The City of Harare’s 2022 budget was prepared with residents being consulted through WhatsApp groups. This reaches an insignificant number to be reflective of the aspirations of ratepayers.
“There are known big debtors in areas like Avondale, Borrowdale and other low-density suburbs whose debt is enough to run Harare, but these debtors are more powerful and influential. Therefore, they are not always threatened with summons,” Shumba said.
He added: “The HRT will be mobilising ratepayers to educate them to know what they need to do when they receive summons. Residents must not be afraid because the City of Harare has not provided them with accurate states of their accounts. The bills are currently based on estimates with some of the debt contributed by refuse collection and water consumption, yet the City of Harare has largely neglected to provide the services. Water supplies are erratic. Refuse is not being collected.”
Shumba urged council to plug revenue leakages in the city’s various business units.
“The HRT wants the City of Harare to repossess City Parking finances so that more of the revenues being generated there could be directed towards health, roads surfacing and marking in the central business district as well as traffic lights,” he said.