Sharon Chikwanha/ Herzel Mushayabasa
Harare residents have petitioned the local authority demanding a review of the 2021 rates, which most residents cannot afford to pay every month.
According the Harare Residents Trust executive director Precious Shumba residents are expected to pay an average of US$40 per month when the amount is converted to the struggling local currency.
The amount, he said, increases to around US$70 – US$100 for the ratepayers living in the low density areas.
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.
“From a human rights perspective, the 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,” the residents argued.
In his submission, Shumba argued that the new 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 raise the issue with Minister of Local Government and Public Works July Moyo 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,” the residents said.
HRT council executive chairperson Marian Katsangu called on 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.”
Shumba said Harare acting mayor Stewart Mutizwa had committed to address the residents’ concerns through council system while promising to implement the most ideal of the recommendations by the residents.
Responding to the petition, Mutizwa said he was a ‘listening Mayor’ and wanted a sustainable solution to the issues bedeviling the City of Harare.
“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 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.
Mutizwa 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,” he said.
The PSIP used to be central government’s medium term strategic investment tool for the development of the country.
Local government have, according to the HRT, argued that the PSIP should be a budgeting and strategic planning tool employed by 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.