By Malcolm Leppard
AD NAUSEAM residents are subjected to the on-going saga of Harare’s water provision or the lack of it.
The “lucky” consumers, on the other hand, are subjected to fluctuating supplies, low pressure and questionable quality, with many illegally disconnected for being unable to pay exorbitant charges.
Despite the council’s history of ineptitude, necessitating the handing over of control of the water supply to Zinwa, it fought for and regained control based on its unfounded belief that it miraculously had somehow become competent and up to the task! Unfortunately, to date, to the dismay and great cost to residents, it continues from where it left off — floundering in inability to resolve the problems.
The dire consequences continue to seriously affect the health and economic well-being of the population and businesses.
Despite this horrendous failing, the Harare City Council constantly continues to connive, manipulate and apply unfair practices regarding fixed fees, together with other measures to unjustly extract money knowing full well that it cannot and most probably never will live up to the task!
To this end, it is even prepared to break the law; disregard the Urban Councils Act, and readily resort to other nasty measures amounting to nothing more than blackmail!
Arrogant to the end, it even defies ministerial directives—– the ministers of which would have no reason to interfere if the municipal management was up to the job!
The first, but seemingly unrecognised duty and priority of any council is to ensure the health and well being of all its residents, jointly with that of upholding universal human rights, an obligation that Harare, and no doubt many other councils, fail to endorse, and surprisingly get away with.
Failure to supply clean water has caused heavy economic costs to the country, both in dealing with outbreaks of diarrhoea, a common cause of infant deaths, and the more deadly diseases such as cholera and hepatitis of which the former unfortunately often ends in yet more deaths. What most residents are unaware of is that cholera outbreaks regularly occur in Harare and that for example, hepatitis A is rife. The City’s Annual Health Report is cram packed with useful facts and figures on pollution, health statistics and other information that the public should have a right to access.
Regrettably, the report’s contents are not made available to the public. This must change, perhaps being made at the very least, available on the internet. One has to condemn the City’s Health Department’s leadership and its doctors for not only condoning widespread water disconnections, but for other equally unhealthy actions or lack of actions, and must be held accountable for its miserable failure, even if only for being unable or unwilling to uphold their allegiance to the Hippocratic Oath.
Such behaviour should preferably attract summarily dismissal for the lack of professionalism if not ineptitude! The lack of water has other costly ramifications. For example, when buildings have no supply or insufficient pressure, fires become a more deadly prospective. Between Mazowe and Third Street, in recent years, two upper storey flats were razed by fire, one ending in the death of two toddlers!
Allied and unrecognised is the not insignificant loss of productivity in the general work force due to consequential illnesses, the inability of staff to fulfill their duties and so forth, as a direct result of the water woes and of course the adverse publicity and its effect on tourism.
It is ironic that though many parts of Harare have incredulously been dry for many years, where water is available the council is deliberately and knowingly, despite the risks, disconnecting consumers illegally in defiance of the High Court Judgment by Justice Gowora, case Number HC 5948/05.
In this judgment it is clearly deemed illegal for the municipality to disconnect the water supply for any outstanding payments other than for water.
So what does this scheming, dishonest authority do? It lumps all service payments under the pretence of a water statement, threatening disconnection if not immediately paid. The Consumer Council of
Zimbabwe, clearly a seemingly, silent, toothless dog these days, and other supposedly ‘august’ bodies must surely be aware of this, but what are they doing? So far, nothing!
The council’s first step in disconnecting a supply is to approach and threaten consumers even without following the period of notice as set out in the Urban Councils Act.
Even if the water is disconnected, the council still bills for the ‘services’ of supply and sewage disposal for the period. Not satisfied with this, it also adds a hefty re-connection charge. Even so, this is still not good enough to fill the council’s ever-mushrooming staff purse and so it imposes an unreasonable 10 percent interest charge, a rate well above the local norms.
How this percentage arose other than as a punitive measure is hard to fathom. Within the Avenues, blocks of flats are disconnected on a daily basis, many even for periods of three or more months, others turned on and off with regular monotony.
Specifically to put pressure on residents to pay and no doubt as punishment, disconnections are often and deliberately carried out on Friday afternoons.
It must be made very clear, residents must pay for fairly priced service charges, and most subscribe to this.
Residents complain of being charged for ghost services and against the high fixed charges imposed purely to raise revenues, specifically to cover general administrative costs!
Another aspect is that of municipal staff seeking bribes. Consumers complain about employees sent to disconnect the water, some seeking inducements to turn a blind eye, leaving the supply connected.
Any such payment only delays disconnection by a few days or so, so at the very least it’s just money down the drain.
Apart from both the legal and moral aspect, the advice is to never pay any back-hander!
It is amazing and disbelievingly in that the council is able to accomplish what no other service provider or private enterprise is able to do — charge for a non service, not just with water, but other ‘services’, typically refuse bin collection, and laughably, city improvements!
And of course, for all the other deteriorating ‘services’ like roads, street lighting etc.
The council is seemingly immune from practising blatant prejudice.
To begin with, there is the unfairness between what is termed the high and low-density areas, traditionally used to distinguish white, black and coloured neighbourhoods. In reality, density is based on the number of people residing in a given area, regardless of financial status, in which case the Avenues is definitely a high density area.
However, the council prefers to rate the area low density for no other reason than to demand higher charges from what it ignorantly believes is home to a well-heeled sector of the community and the ease of extracting meaningful sums of money at little cost.
The point, though, is that this is now Zimbabwe and not Rhodesia and that the demographics have changed, resulting in both low and high density areas accommodating rich and poor alike, subsequently many being unfairly penalised, others rubbing their hands in glee being beneficiaries of the injustice! -The Sunday Mail