Council queries Univern deal

HARARE - Harare councillors have questioned the rationality of doing business with local firm Southern Region Trading Company, arguing that it is slowly taking over Harare City Council (HCC) operations.

The company, which trades under Univern Enterprises, is among the five firms that are installing prepaid water meters around Harare.

They are also in charge of 17 tollgates across the country.

Borrowdale councillor Allan Markham said council should not deal with Univern as it was already involved with other businesses that were not thriving.

Markham said Univern was slowly siphoning the city’s intellectual property, with council not getting anything in return.

“They are in charge of getting toll fees and road administration. Before Univern came along, we used to get $9 million for road maintenance now we are only getting $1 million. We should be very careful before giving everything away so easily,” Markham said.

Another councillor, who refused to be named, said Univern’s involvement in municipal business was benefitting management.

According to licensing committee minutes, Univern had proposed to enter into an agreement with council for electronic billing of shop and business licences.

The terms of reference for the business agreement were that Univern would provide the equipment and services such as computers, wide area network connectivity and system design data migration.

Univern would then be getting a five percent commission from the initial $5 million collected and an additional eight percent from actual collections once the system starts running.

“Council stands to benefit from this engagement in that all loopholes that exist in the shop licensing manual system will be plucked out. Revenue collection from shop licensing is set to improve and incidents of fake shop licences will be avoided,” read part of the minutes.

In the finance and development committee minutes, council would also sign a Memorandum of Agreement with Univern for management of the commuter omnibus and billboard systems.

The terms of agreement similar to the management of shop licences would see Univern being paid their commission of services provided monthly.

Decisions to electronically manage council operations came about after HCC audit manager Joseph Issa reported that revenue from business licensing dropped by 17 percent from $7 million in 2014 to $5,8 million last year. 

According to a survey conducted in March, of 976 businesses in Harare’s Central Business District, three percent (33) were operating with fake business licences while 51 percent (495) are not licensed at all.

“An inspection of 782 commuter omnibuses revealed 14 percent (106) of them are operating with fake rank discs while eight percent (60) are operating without valid rank discs,” Issa said.

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