By Sharon Tatenda Magodyo, HRT Community Coordinator

Zimbabwe.- The residents of Harare have long suffered from water disconnections. Water is essential in people’s lives and people cannot live without it. Every person has the right to safe, clean and potable water. Daily household chores and industrial activities require huge amounts of water. So, when the City of Harare secured a US$144 million loan from China, Harare residents had every reason to celebrate in anticipation of increased water pumping capacity. They expected consistent water supplies in their own households.

The Harare City Council has dismally failed to increase their pumping capacity, and most households, especially in the northern and eastern suburbs rarely receive municipal water. The council should be blamed because of its misuse of public funds meant to ensure the progressive realisation of residents’ rights to water.

The council has instituted an investigation into the alleged abuse of the US$144 million Chinese loan. They are taking their time to produce the report of their findings.

The government has claimed that it is supporting the investigation into the alleged abuse of the Chinese loan (Financial Gazette, 12-18 June 2014, Government backs MDC-T council audit). We only hope they are serious and not paying lip service.

This delay and lack of accountability is putting Harare residents in a difficult situation as they have the burden of repaying the loan, with interest, yet the loan agreement remains a secret document, only known to the Mayor, the Town Clerk and a few council officials. If the residents have to repay, then they must be fully informed about the contents of the loan agreement.

The public should be informed about the plans taking place within the council and how funds are being used. Due to their suffering and lack of transparency in council, residents withhold their rates.

Those with boreholes are taking advantage of those who are desperate for water. For example, in Mbare, water is being sold for R2 a bucket. This is an unjustified and unfair extra expense, given that residents still have to pay for fixed and consumption water charges at the end of the month.

The Harare City Council should at least produce a timetable for the water disconnections. Last week residents from Mabvuku complained of inconsistent water supplies. Water shortages increase the risk of diseases like diarrhoea, mainly caused by poor hygiene.

The Harare Residents Trust (HRT) mediates between the residents and the service providers. There should be a workable relationship among people and their institutions, based on mutual trust. To protect people’s rights, it is the HRT’s duty to educate residents on basic rights and obligations. The organisation educates the community through focus group discussions and community meetings. The objective is to build residents’ capacity to demand and claim their rights as communities, but most importantly, as individuals.

This is commendable as it is in line with Section 270 (3), Chapter 14 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which outlines the importance of human rights: “Members of a provincial or metropolitan council are accountable, collectively and individually, to residents of their province and the national government for the exercise of their function.”

While the Harare Metropolitan Council has not been physically established, it is noteworthy to celebrate this creation as it envisages a situation where the citizens are treated as equal partners for the development of our urban local authorities. This means the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29.15) has to be aligned with the Constitution to give effect to this constitutional intention to promote effective citizen participation.

It is critical that the Harare City Council becomes more accountable to the citizens if it hopes to build a strong relationship with its stakeholders and get the cooperation of residents. This will instil confidence among international and regional funding partners who wish to invest in Harare’s infrastructure sector.

Thank you,

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