Online billing has arrived in five suburbs of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, giving many residents, for the first time, access to their accounts for water, electricity and other bills, also known as rates and service charges, right from their mobile phones or the internet
The system, introduced by the Harare City Council earlier this month, has been launched in Kuwadzana, Mufakose, Budiriro, Glen View and Highfield suburbs, before being expanded to all the council’s 23 district offices throughout the city.
Residents have welcomed the new payment system, excited that it will not only allow them to check the status of their accounts from the phone or internet, but it also eliminates the need for them to physically go to the main revenue office in the city center, to query or pay bills. Additionally, whereas before residents had to carry around their monthly statements to make payments, the new system requires only an account number, street address, stand number or surname.
Speaking during a tour of the council districts where online billing is being tested, senior programs officer, Tendai Muchada of the Combined Harare Resident Association, commended the council’s initiative. However, Muchada suggested that the council use an alternative mobile network to the one in place, during the trial phase, saying its faulty.
“You cannot rely on Telone internet,” Muchada said. “I think you’ve seen that in 2 of the 5 district offices that we’ve been to, the system was offline, so it’s still back to square one.”
Harare Residents Trusts senior community co-ordinator, Regina Bakuri, is hopeful that the new system will improve what she called an ineffective billing system. Additionally, said Arthur Muromba of the Harare Informal Traders Council, online billing, unlike the old system, will be more transparent.
“We appreciate it because in the past,” said Muromba, “because in the past people did not use to know their actual bills, and everything was transparent and perfect as such.”
Many, like Fungai Chikosi of the Proudly Zimbabwean Foundation, also hope the new system will help make the process more efficient, thereby helping boost the city’s revenue.
“You know that the situation is now faster, they have a situation where, one person you go there and it’s a one stop shop.”
Ratepayers who’ve defaulted on their payments will still be held accountable. The council has reportedly issued out warrants of execution against more than 4,000 properties, and an additional 28, 404 summons, valued at $25 million, are soon to follow. Commercial properties owing council more than US$10,000 will also reportedly be taken to court.
The council is owed more than US$300-million in rates and charges.