Tatenda Charamba & Runyararo Muzavazi Features Writers
Proposals by the Harare City Council to install prepaid water metres in residential areas have evoked mixed feelings amongst rate payers. Recently, council admitted that there were areas which had old meters giving wrong readings. Residents are not sure whether this is a “Messiah” in military boots or an ultimate solution to water challenges. They believe the city council should conduct meetings with all stakeholders to explain and justify prepaid water meters before it can introduce them to residents.
Hilton Njowa from Highfield said installation of prepaid water metres would address some of the challenges faced by residents.
“It is good to know that council has decided to put an end to our problems. We have been paying huge sums of money yet we are not receiving the services. We expect these prepaid water meters to operate differently from the old water meters which were giving incorrect readings, leading to residents paying insurmountable bills,” said Njowa. Njowa however, feels council should consult residents before embarking on the installation procedures.
“We implore council to take time to listen to their concerns. The main reason for this initiative should be to ensure availability, ease of access, adequacy and better quality of the water provided,” said Njowa. Tafirenyika Mazambani of Mabvuku insists water is a right and should be affordable.
“Water is a human right; hence should not be priced beyond the reach of the majority who are poor and struggling to make ends meet. Water meters should drive us into an era where water supply exceeds demand by residents since charges will be derived from water used,” he said. Miriam Dube from Epworth said residents in her area walk distances of about a kilometre or more to get potable water.
“People from my area walk long distances in search of water because of inadequate water supplies on council’s part. Therefore our hopes are high that all the troubles we used to go through will finally be over.
“Prepaid water metres should operate just like prepaid electricity, implying that those that pay are eligible to use water,” she said. Hamadziripi Mushayavanhu reiterated that prepaid water meters were being imposed on residents.
“We never had any encounter with officials from the council asking for our opinions. It is not sensible for the council to go ahead with their decision without making consultations because we are the reason these people have their positions. We are the same people that are going to be affected by these changes so our say in this is equally significant,” said Mushayavanhu.
“We are now used to having no water running in our taps so we know we can survive. There is great mistrust for prepaid water meter installation because we know that an expert in information technology can easily manipulate details,” he added.
Livingstone Gato from Glenview said council should not try to paper over the crevices with talk of prepaid water meters but rather improve service delivery.
“We hope that council will not hide its corrupt activities under the water meters. Charges and operations concerning the water meters should be transparent,” said Gato. Harare Residents Trust president Precious Shumba felt council was being inconsiderate of the residents’ opinions.
“The City of Harare is imposing prepaid water meters. They have not shared with the residents the findings of a pilot project that they undertook. The residents of Harare have not requested prepaid water meters. Council management and a few councillors are the ones imposing the prepared water meters because they have one objective: increasing revenue but do not value the provision of public services,” said Shumba. Shumba suggested that council should first deal with water leakages before installing prepaid water meters.
“The City of Harare should have dealt effectively with the 60 percent of water being lost through leakages, thefts, and illegal connections along the distribution network. What this means is that despite paying around $3 million monthly for water treatment, and producing 450 megalitres from Morton Jaffrey Water Works, only 40 percent is actually reaching residents. The City of Harare is incurring losses of 60 percent every month on water revenue alone. Municipalities should not be reluctant to plug the leakages and thefts of treated water along the water distribution network,” he said.
Council minutes state that “rate payers with outstanding rates, water, and sewer and refuse collection bills at the time of installation of smart water meters would have their debts reflected as a debit on the installed water meter.
“The debt would be deducted from the prepayments at a rate of a percentage to be determined by council from time to time but it shall not exceed 50 percent at any given time”. Residents were urged to get their installations done only by council employees.
“Smart water meters shall remain the property of council and the installation, repair and maintenance shall be done by council or its authorised agents only,” the minutes read. Combined Residents Association (Chra) chairman Simbarashe Moyo said the proposed installation of water metres was based on an erroneous belief in terms of service improvement.
“It is both a hoax and a fallacy that the installation of prepaid water meters will improve service delivery in terms of water provision by local authorities.
“Some of the reasons are the cost of installing the prepaid water meters is huge (around $300 per meter) and this cost will be footed by the residents who are struggling to make ends meet in these trying and hard times,” he said. He said residents were not in support of the proposed water metres.
“The residents have vehemently refused this scheme of prepaid water meters, meaning that at a policy legitimating level, there is a big problem. The report from the pilot project has shown that the city of Harare is not yet ready to install these gadgets on a mass scale, meaning that if the city is to ignore this and go ahead with the installation residents will not get water on a daily basis,” Moyo said.
“Chra has rejected and still rejects the proposal of having prepaid water meters. At the same time we will not speak on behalf of those who voluntarily or want these gadgets installed at their homesteads,” he said. Last week Harare City Council spokesman, Michael Chideme said old water metres were giving incorrect figures.
“Old water metres were giving wrong readings as such we have replaced them in some areas like Kuwadzana.” He encouraged those that had made payment plans to adhere to them or risk being disconnected. This was after residents lamented the increase in water charges as a result of inaccurate readings from old water metres. Water supplies have been erratic in most suburbs with some going for years without water. Poor residents now rely on water from unprotected sources which expose them to water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid.