THE insistence by the City of Harare that it intends to introduce prepaid water meters despite residents’ objections is evidence of lack of democracy and absence of citizens’ involvement in the governance and administration of the Capital City. Democracy by its very nature entails adherence to popular public positions. The Mayor of Harare has been a strong advocate for the introduction of prepaid water meters from the time he was the Chairperson of the Environment Management Committee, and even now as the Mayor. The Harare Residents’ Trust (HRT) has noted with increasing concern the position being publicly taken by the Mayor of Harare, Councillor Hebert Gomba (Ward 27 Councillor, Glen Norah B) on the issue of prepaid water meters, and cautions him against pursuing policies that are in direct conflict with public health interest, and the progressive realisation of the right to water enshrined in Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (Number 20) Act of 2013. In its policy position, the HRT recognises that water is a right to be enjoyed by every citizen irrespective of political, economic and social status. The quality of water should meet the basic standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and should be visibly clean to inspire confidence in the consumers.
Where a resident and ratepayer has been disconnected, it should be the responsibility of the local authority to provide the affected citizen with their 20 litres of water daily until the water is restored, in line with the UN standards. Zimbabwe is a signatory to that resolution and the local authority cannot work against the fulfillment of a national commitment. Water is a right which should not be denied to anyone. This right cannot be compromised in pursuit of commercial interests.
The HRT reiterates that It shall be its policy to demand from Central Government and the local authority the availability of a minimum of 20 litres of water for domestic use by each citizen in terms of the UN General Assembly Resolution Number GA 10967, 64/292 ‘Recognising Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as a Human Right delivered on 28 July 2010 at the 64th General Assembly meeting.’
Below we highlight the explanations and justifications for rallying behind the residents’ position against the introduction of prepaid water meters:
- The City of Harare commissioned a pilot study on the introduction of prepaid water meters in five suburbs. But up to now they have not produced a public report on their findings. They are only announcing that they intend to introduce prepaid water meters. If they committed ratepayers’ funds to conduct such a huge research targeting low, medium and high density suburbs, including some flats in the central business district, they must also be equally prepared to publicly release the report of their findings, using an independent evaluator, who should conduct the post-evaluation research. They cannot commission a research, validate it themselves and approves it without using third parties for validation purposes.
- The City of Harare has undertaken, since around 2011 a project to replace all dysfunctional conventional water meters so that they accurately bill ratepayers. This project was launched amid celebrations, and the City of Harare committed again, ratepayers’ funds for that project. They have done it in Chizhanje, Mabvuku and Tafara, Sunningdale, Dzivarasekwa among other communities, but they have not completed it.
- The five companies selected to undertake the pilot project for the installation of prepaid water meters included a company that was owned by former Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Ignatius Chombo, who happened to be a chief advocate for the introduction of prepaid water meters. The subsequent trips by some Councillors in the City of Harare to South Africa on the same project raises serious questions about the deals that were sealed with the five companies. Because before their trip to SA some of the Councillors were opposed to the prepaid water meters, but after their trip, they started vigorously pushing for the introduction of prepaid water meters. What changed them? It can only be a subject of speculation. There is reasonable ground to suspect connivance for commercial benefits among the Ministry officials, Councillors and Council management, who are all advancing the argument that they want prepaid water meters in order to increase their revenue collection, instead of doing it to improve service delivery, the quality of water, increasing accessibility and availability of the water, and accountability in the utilisation of water funds.
- Of the 450 megalitres that the City of Harare is generating, they have consistently reported that they are losing 60 percent through leakages and thefts of water along the water distribution network. This implies that at least 270 megalitres of treated water being pumped from Morton Jaffray Water Works is being either lost or being stolen through illegal connections to illegal housing developments along the water distribution network. The only people with the expertise and know-how of illegal water connections should be Harare Water Engineers working with land barons, housing cooperatives, council management and Councillors, because that would be a huge scandal if the Councillors are presenting these reports, and not raising issues with it. It can only point to the involvement of more people in the theft of municipal water, evidently at the expense of the ratepayers. Therefore the replacement of rotten and damaged underground water pipes should be a more pressing priority than trying to address issues of revenue collection before addressing the evident leakages and thefts through illegal connections of treated water. The lack of urgency to address this issue reveals a criminal network being in charge of the whole system thus they would not want to disrupt their system by increasing the water that reaches households.
- Water as a need has no substitute, unlike electricity which can be substituted by paraffin, liquefied petroleum gas, firewood, solar energy, charcoal and biogas, candles among other options. Water serves to give life to people. Therefore the provision of water should not be influenced by the desires of private businesses to increase their profit margins. When the private companies are making profit, it is apparent that there are officials within the system benefitting as well. The citizens should not be sacrificed for profit making agendas.
- Even when the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) is availing US$2 500 every month towards purchase of water treatment chemicals, the City of Harare is not prioritising the replacement of obsolete underground water pipes and plugging the leakages along the water distribution network.
Going forward the HRT urges the City of Harare to attend to the following key priorities in order to consider the introduction of prepaid water meters in the future.
- Release the report on the pilot project on the installation of prepaid water meters.
- Make water available to at least 90 percent of billed properties in Harare.
- Maximise revenue collection from the Chitungwiza, Norton, Epworth, Ruwa, Inkomo Barracks, and other towns that are receiving Harare Water.
- Create platforms where the Residents, Business, Government and other key stakeholders regularly meet to deliberate on key service delivery issues. Revenue collection is tied to the attitude of service providers. If you do not communicate and engage, there is no way you will gain the support of the receivers of your services as a public service provider.
- Shelf the plan to introduce prepaid water meters until the City of Harare has corrected its current BIQ Billing system which keeps increasing the amounts owed to them by ratepayers, even if residents are struggling to pay their rates.
- Institute official investigations into the illegal connections of water by housing cooperatives and other housing developers who are now connected to municipal water yet are not on the council’s billing database.
- Prioritise plugging the leakages along the water distribution network, and,
- Seriously consider revamp the BIQ billing system, and,
- End your aggression by adopting a pro-dialogue and engagement approach when instituting debt management strategies, because residents are trying their best under very difficult socio-economic conditions.
- Enhance refuse collection and gain the trust of the ratepayers, thus increasing the money they pay in rates.
The City of Harare is presently lacking an attitude of serving the ratepayers. The District Officers and Revenue Officers who are disconnecting water from ratepayers for non-payment of rates are not helping the council because that strategy is unsustainable and will result in building more resentment towards the council. When resentment builds up, engagement would be more difficult, thus the Councillors and Officials have to work closely with their different stakeholders including the HRT to mobilise residents to engage with the council for a win-win result. The HRT is readily available to cooperate and collaborate with the council if it drops its negative attitude towards the poor members of society. The City of Harare stands to benefit more in terms of revenue collection by working closely with communities than pursue a partisan confrontational approach which has been evident in most of the communities where some of the new Councillors still lack a basic appreciation of their roles and responsibilities and still pursue partisan politics, outside an election period.
Source: Harare Residents Trust