Harare City Council (HCC) has been taking a lot of positive steps this year to improve ease of doing business and service delivery, although the later to a limited extend.
Debt recovery and prepaid water meters
Starting late 2015, the city embarked on a debt recovery exercise whereby it sued all residents in arrears of $300 or more.Although, it has had its own negative impacts; their drive to recoup arrears from defaulting city residents has led to some recoveries and in some unfortunate instances, it has meant the loss of property to some marginalised residents. The city also plans to introduce prepaid water meters which will help in the collection of revenues and halt the processes of suing residents as the city will recoup its money through monthly installments towards the debt. This will be a relief to many city residents who had debts with the local authority. There are however, a lot of skeptics who go with the school of thought that water is a human right under the United Nations resolution 64/292 of 2010 to which Zimbabwe is a part of. Now if the local authority denies residents water due to financial constraints faced by the ratepayer then this infringes the aforesaid rights of the person. Under this school of thought, finances can be dealt with later and agreed upon, but every resident should receive adequate, clean water for their basic survival.
In an article that appeared in the Herald today, HCC is working on engaging all leaseholders with the objective of bringing the rental in line with the current economic gain being obtained from the business being run on the leased pieces of land. According to HCC acting town clerk, Mrs Josephine Ncube, making reference to Sports Clubs “Some of them were paying rentals, for example, of two pounds per annum…” Surely most sports clubs generate at least two pounds per hour, so it is only fitting for rentals to be increased to a reasonable amount.
Shortening license turnaround times
HCC has also made it easier for shop owners to have one licence for different businesses that may be operating under one roof, for example; supermarkets, banking institutions, food courts etc. Instead of each department having its own licences, now the council only issues one licence for all trading departments making the administration work much easier. Turnaround times for issuing business licences has also been reduced to only 5 days from 2 – 3 weeks previously, a move which will see more licences being processed more quickly and hopefully attract many SMEs to comply.
Embracing Plastic Money
HCC was one of the first quasi-government bodies to embrace plastic money since the cash shortages started in May. Major HCC receipting points now have point of sale (POS) machines which enable residents and businesses to make payments by card. HCC is also an Ecocash Merchant and can receive payments on this platform. However, the reconciliations on Ecocash have been troublesome, with some who use this form of payment having to ultimately visit council offices to have their payments acknowledged and reflect on their statements, which defeats the purpose.
Lagging behind in mobile Technologies
Given that the mobile penetration rate in Zimbabwe is more than 1.3 phones per person, HCC still lags far behind it terms of modern mobile technologies. For example, they should create a mobile application which enables residents and businesses to view and pay for their bills and licences through mobile money or debit card and businesses can simply renew their licences and have them delivered to their work place. This will improve efficiencies and possible revenue collection as well.