via Council owed US$5m in unpaid bills | The Herald October 16, 2013 by Innocent Ruwende and Evelene Taadira
HARARE City Council is owed US$5 million in unpaid water bills after the July debt cancellation, a development the city says is hampering its efforts to improve service delivery. The city wrote off debts amounting to US$330 million following a Government directive just before the 31 July harmonised elections.
Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi said the money they collect was for working capital as well as maintenance of infrastructure and that the non-payment by some residents was affecting the rate at which council repaired infrastructure.
Dr Mahachi said council was also owed an additional US$9 million as of September this year by those who are leasing properties from council and US$17 million in unpaid water bills by the business community.
“We are going to do what the law allows us to do. We will disconnect water to those who are not paying and we will repossess our properties from those not paying lease rentals.
“They should pay or at least make a payment plan so that we move forward together. If they do not come forward we have no choice but to repossess our facilities,” he said.
Dr Mahachi said council’s potential revenue was US$22 million per month but it was getting between US$15 million and US$18 million.
He said before the debt cancellation council realised US$13 million from the same potential.
On the billing system Dr Mahachi said it was accurate.
“Some of our employees last year were meeting with residents outside council and generating fictitious receipts”.
He said some residents may have been swindled but it was not councils’ problem as the people did not pay in council offices.
Last week council fired seven employees, while another has been arrested for manipulating the city’s billing system to swindle unsuspecting ratepayers of thousands of dollars.
The scam, which threatened to undo Government’s progressive arrears write-off, raised the ire of ratepayers.
Council gets US$300 000 monthly from its business properties which include car sales, sports clubs and shops in high density areas.
Dr Mahachi said the bills were manageable and payment would ensure that the city provides potable water to its residents.
When The Herald visited high density areas of Glen Norah, Glen View and Kuwadzana yesterday, council employees were busy disconnecting water supplies to those with debts.
Once disconnected, domestic water users pay a reconnection fee of US$10 while commercial entities pay US$58 on top of the original debt.
If found illegally opening the meter, residents are fined US$115 while for the same offence commercial clients pay US$230. The city’s business development director Mr Cosmas Zvikaramba said the eight were from the revenue and central accounts department.
“They have been discharged from council after an internal hearing in which they gave their sides of the story. The other case is still pending at the Harare Magistrates’ Court and we will be guided by the outcome of the court,” he said.
The workers allegedly issued fake receipts and made residents pay for their accounts to be credited.
In some cases, the workers would reportedly copy information from the BIQ system and place it on their personal laptops because the system has a loophole of auto credit or debit and they could tamper with the information and credit consumers with approximately US$5 000 before approaching them for a bribe.