Residents declare war on prepaid water meters

HARARE - As Zimbabwe’s local municipalities — including Harare and Bulawayo — toy with the idea of introducing prepaid water meters in homes, residents say they will fight to the end to block the move which they say is a matter of life and death.

Here Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki engages Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) chief executive officer Mfundo Mlilo and below are the excerpts.

Q: What is Chra’s position on the proposed prepaid meters?

A: We are totally opposed to the prepaid meter project because it will not solve the problems of water delivery in Harare.

Prepaid meters will not lead to residents receiving adequate safe and clean water in their households. It will also not lead to increase in revenue flows as the City claims.

If at all, it is a very expensive project that will only deplete the resources of Council.

This is a shared position with the Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (Hamref) and its Anti-Privatisation alliance members, which include, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd), Community Water Alliance (CWA), the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), National Association of Youth Organisations (NAYO) and the Zimbabwe Young Women Network for Peace building (ZYWNP).

Q: How much work have you put in this campaign to stop the introduction of the prepaid water system?

A: There is a robust anti-prepaid meter campaign going on called “Inform, Educate and Resist”. The Chra has formed the Anti-Privatisation Alliance, which brings together residents associations in the Harare Metropolitan Province, and other key partners as mentioned earlier. Chra held a Water Dialogue Indaba on the 16th of December 2014, which brought together government ministries, the City of Harare and other stakeholders.

We further hosted two stakeholders’ workshops in 2015 with city councillors and the Mayor so that the issue of prepaid meters is debated and fully understood in the Zimbabwean context.

These meetings have established that the City of Harare has not done a comprehensive study on prepaid meters and that in fact they are inappropriate in this Zimbabwe context.

We have recently demonstrated at the Town House full council meeting and we will do that every month until they stop the prepaid meter project.

The partners are now lobbying political parties to reject this project. We have also linked up with other residents associations like the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (Bupra) and are now running a national campaign against prepaid meters under the banner of the Zimbabwe United Residents Association (ZURA).

Q: Why are you resisting the prepaid meters?

A: Because it will not solve the problems of water delivery in Harare. Prepaid meters will not lead to residents receiving adequate safe and clean water in their households.

It will also not lead to increase in revenue flows as the City claims.

The premise for prepaid meters is revenue generation or cost recovery but research conducted or even a mere look at the capital expenditure required to install just one meter (over $250) is not justifiable and local authorities will find it difficult to recover these monies.

Water is not a commodity that you can sell like electricity. It is a life and death issue, which is even guaranteed in the Constitution.

What would be the package for free water, how would it be managed? In any case, the City of Harare collects over 60 percent of its revenue from water rates and we still don’t have water.

Secondly, and most importantly, who wants the prepaid meters? Who was consulted? At a policy legitimation level, there seems to be a big problem here. You know as well as I do that the tendering for these gadgets has not been made public and someone out there wants to illegally benefit.

Our point is, consult, do a study of impact. Thirdly, technology gadgets must be seen within a technology frame.

Does the city have the capacity to run and manage such a system?

What technical aspects and human resources are needed to run such a system? Not to mention that electricity is needed to keep the gadgets working.

With these power cuts, one can only imagine the impact this would have.

Q: What would be an ideal way of making sure that water in conserved and residents get value for use of that water?

A: I think that, first of all the City must address the problem of infrastructure. On a daily basis the City produces about 640 mega litres of water and over 55 percent of this water is lost due to water leakages. This is against a demand of over 1 200 mega litres. So attending to the problem of water infrastructure can increase the water supply by over 50 percent.

The city also needs to protect its wetlands and even build artificial ones as this can help to purify and even conserve it.

Q: Where has the system of prepaid water worked and how did that happen?

A: A few countries like South Africa, Namibia, and Ghana for example, have adopted the use of prepaid meters. The research conducted by the World Bank shows that there has been little success.

In South Africa, the Mogale City municipality recently commissioned a performance audit of 10 000 prepaid meters.

The results showed that over 90 percent of the meters were found to be faulty. Over a third were delivering free water as a result of jammed valves or because customers had bypassed or tampered with them. In Durban, South Africa, the installation of prepaid meters led to an outbreak of cholera that affected over 300 000 people. One can only imagine what would happen to Harare.

So, most countries that have adopted prepaid meters are actually moving away from them.

In any case, there is a World Bank and GIZ report conducted in Harare, which concludes that the city is not ready and does not have the capacity to run an effective prepaid meter system.  Zesa is also abandoning its system due to the same problems.

Q: As Chra how much of input have you had in this proposed system?

A: The City of Harare did not consult Chra or any of its key stakeholders. It is only after our push back advocacy that they are now talking about consultation.

We have now had meetings with councillors and the mayor to debate the merits and demerits of the project. The problem is that the bureaucracy as represented by Dr Tendai Mahachi (Town Clerk) is unwilling to engage and insists that they will go ahead with prepaid water metering. So we have produced a stakeholder’s position paper on prepaid meters, which we hope, the city will then use as its position paper.

Q: The Harare City Council is going ahead by having a pilot project, what avenues are available to you to force your hand in this matter?

A: We are engaging with the Mayor and councillors who ultimately have to make the decision on this matter.

We are also launching door-to-door campaigns and mobilising our members to go to councillors’ houses. We have also been lobbying political parties to put pressure on their councillors to stop this project.

Ultimately, the association is ready to mobilise residents to resist this project.

Q: Apart from the water debate, how much work have you put in your advocacy to make sure residents get satisfactory service delivery from the HCC?

A: The Chra is working closely with the ministry of Local Government to produce a Social Accountability and Citizen participation policy, which must address issues of transparency and accountability, which are the major challenges to the delivery of quality and effective social service.

We are promoting budget reform and training residents on participatory budget making. We are creating spaces of engagement between councillors and residents so that they make a contribution to the governance of the city.

Q: In what ways are you influencing positive change within these institutions with regards to provision of basic services and implementation of the budget?

A: Chra produces independent budget analysis, Service delivery reports and alternative policy briefs, which are taken by the City and ministry for their decision-making.

We educate residents and work through them to force changes to policy and practice.

In essence, we do local government services monitoring and evaluations, research and citizen mobilisation.

Q: Govt is working on a new business district for Harare, is this the way to go in the current circumstances?

A: The only challenge with such initiatives is that they are not shared visions. The City just does not understand the need to consult and create and a vision that is shared. In many cases, the business community and residents are just forced to accept policies and plans they have not contributed to and that they don’t understand.

Q: You have previously complained about mushrooming settlements, why is that so and what would be your solution to this?

A: The problem of shelter is a real problem, which is beyond the City Council.

The government and in fact some political parties are illegally partitioning City land to their members without the authority of councils.

As an Association we want the government to provide shelter as a right protected in the Constitution but we also want this to be done in terms of the law.

Government must attend to corruption issues related to the land question. It must create friendly policies that attract investment in infrastructure development.


Comments (3)

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Chinenge chichi shandisa electricity yaani chi meter chavo ichocho?

Basa - 15 April 2015

we as citizens we are totally opposed to this what are they trying to achieve with these meters coz first of all there has to be availability of water perhaps they will start to talk about this project. also they should show us their budget of doing this and where the money is coming from since they always say they dont have money this is a gross violation of our human rights as enshrined in our constitution section 77. there are no two ways about it but to reject it. service providers have successfully failed to deliver as evidenced by zesa due to continuous load-shedding and looking at our incapacitated council that fail to collect a bin and wat more a project of more than 250us . Zimbabweans across all the provinces lets reject these prepared meters

plagmaster - 12 May 2015

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