By Harare Residents Trust
THE Harare Residents’ Trust on Tuesday, 30 March 2021 handed a petition to the City of Harare demanding a review of the 2021 rates which most residents cannot afford to pay every month.
The Acting Mayor, Ward 9 Councillor Musarurwa Stewart Mutizwa said they will handle the petition through their council system, promising to implement the most ideal of the recommendations by the residents. Councillor Mutizwa said that service delivery will improve if the key stakeholders, including ratepayers, worked together with their council.
He highlighted the challenges that the City of Harare is facing and bemoaned the lack of viability of their strategic business units. If the strategic business units had performed according to plan, the burden on ratepayers would have been significantly reduced.
The HRT petition, signed by 5 500 ratepayers, expresses the anger among residents on the unsustainably high rates being charged by the City of Harare.
Residents are now supposed to pay on average of US$40 if converted from the ZW$ on the official auction rate. This amount goes up to around US$70 – US$100 for the ratepayers living in the low density areas.
From a human rights perspective, these rates being charged by the City of Harare are unsustainable, unjustified and further weakens the capacity of the ratepayers to escape socio-economic challenges brought about by the Covid-19 and high unemployment levels.
In his submission to the Mayor, Precious Shumba, the HRT Director, said the increased rates had increased the burden on ratepayers because the incomes had not changed since last year, and most of the ratepayers are unemployed.
“If the residents cannot pay the high rates, no one can force the ratepayers to pay the full amounts owed to council,” he said.
“Even if all residents pay their bills, the City of Harare will not be able to provide an efficient and effective service. A heavy rates burden is most unwelcome and we urge the council to review the rates downwards.”
The HRT intends to escalate the issue to the Minister of Local Government and Public Works who approved the City of Harare rates for his re-consideration of the 2021 budget.
While the Minister approved the city’s 2021 budget on time, the budget is not affordable to most ratepayers. Marian Katsangu, the Deputy Chairperson of the HRT Residents Council Executive urged the City of Harare to listen to the grievances by residents because ignoring the issues will not help anyone.
“Residents do not have the money, they cannot afford the high bills,” Katsangu said.
“The City of Harare should listen to us as the ratepayers.”
In response, Acting Mayor Mutizwa said he was a ‘listening Mayor’ and wanted a sustainable solution to the issues bedevilling the City of Harare.
Mayor Mutizwa said: “I am receiving your petition, I will read through it and will refer it to the responsible offices in our council system. Ratepayers are an integral part of the city’s development 2 architecture, and their views and submissions will be treated with the utmost respect and consideration.”
He appealed to residents to pay their bills on time saying the major challenge that the council was facing to provide essential social services was the issue of the failed strategic business units.
He said without a government subsidy on most of their services, they are mostly relying on ratepayers.
Another challenge is that the former Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) has now been converted to being devolution funds yet there is no clarity on the amount due to each local authority.
The Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) is usually the Government’s medium term strategic investment tool for the development of the country. Local government experts say it is a budgeting and strategic planning tool employed by the Government, to translate its priorities and plans into tangible programmes and projects.
It therefore demonstrates that the devolution funds cannot be relied on to anticipate the nature of projects that the City of Harare can undertake, until the funds are availed. Mayor Mutizwa said only 16 percent was coming to the City of Harare from City Parking. It was established to support the roads’ projects of the council.
This is despite the fact that the City Parking is considered 100 percent owned by the City of Harare. The HRT had submitted that the City Parking should be fully under the direct control of the City of Harare.
Harare Quarry was established to support Harare’s roads repairs and maintenance, even upgrades but it was not performing to expectations. Without any revenues coming in from the council’s businesses, the burden fell on ratepayers.
Commenting on the other strategic business units being run under the auspices of the Sunshine Holdings, Councillor Mutizwa said the businesses had not worked as mandated, thus their impact was insignificant to the functioning of the City of Harare.
The butchery had not thrived despite the council owning some cattle under Harare Water.
The HRT recognizes the importance of citizen involvement in council’s decision-making and the petition is a part of a broader process to have the council and ratepayers agreeing on the best way to sustain council operations without exerting too much pressure on the ratepayers.