Revelations last week that Harare City Council is owed in excess of $600 million by rates defaulters should be a cause for concern. This kind of defaulting does not augur well for a city aspiring to become world class in the next few years. While we are aware of the economic problems facing the country because of sanctions imposed by Western countries, we observe that alone cannot be the reason for such a high rate of defaulters.
Defaulting on rates has been going on even before the advent of the sanctions and is something that is becoming inherent in the country’s urban dwellers. It is not confined to Harare alone — Bulawayo was last year owed $129 million by residents, Gweru $35 million, Masvingo $34 million and Mutare $20 million.
We note that the residents are at the forefront of complaining about poor service delivery — a paradox in itself because they are the same people who seem not keen to meet their obligations.
Imagine what the Harare City Council could do to the badly damaged roads if it was to get the outstanding $600 million into its coffers. What is more shocking, especially about Harare, is that more than 85 000 properties have not paid a cent in rates to the city since dollarisation in 2009.
Residents in the capital owe the city in excess of $249 million, commercial properties $245 million, industry $44,7 million and Government $20,8 million. On a number of occasions, the Harare City Council has engaged debt collectors and each time it does so, the response has been favourable.
Recently, there were reports that residents thronged WellCash Debt Collectors offices to settle their dues after they received warnings. This shows that the residents have the capacity to pay for what they consume.
And the equation is very simple — if they do not pay their rates, they should not expect top notch service delivery!
By not paying up, the residents are giving the city reasons to defend its ineptitude. The residents are fully aware that if they have difficulties in paying their rates and bills, they can call the city council or visit its offices to make alternative payment arrangements.
Yet such a plan has seen very few takers.
The residents should also be aware that even if they do not receive a statement from the city, they are still liable to pay their rates and bills.
At the same time, council should also be seen to adopt measures that help raise income to enhance its ability to offer services. Previous councils were business minded, and that explains why there were money raising ventures like Rufaro Marketing.
There are also a lot of areas which the Harare City Council can court partners to do business and raise more funds.
Some of the pitfalls facing council like failure to pay its workers, whom it owes six months’ salaries amounting to $20 million, are due to lack of innovativeness.
The city should also fight corruption among councillors and its workers to instil confidence in ratepayers.