HARARE – In the coming 12 months, Harare City Council (HCC) will be rolling out its first phase of 100 000 prepaid water meters, as part of measures to increase revenue collection.
While the smart metering system has been met with fierce criticism from residents and pressure groups, the local authority — struggling to balance income and expenses — argues it is the only way forward.
With full support from both the Local Government and Water ministries, HCC director of water Hosea Chisango said they were not backing down on the project, despite access to clean water being a human right enshrined in Zimbabwe’s Constitution.
In June 2016, council installed 2 000 meters in Bluffhill, the Avenues, Sunningdale, Kambuzuma, Greendale and Avondale, under a pilot project.
In an interview with the Daily News on Sunday, Chisango said to fully cover the entire city with the meters would be the long-term idea which could take many years to realise.
Chisango said the winners of the tender, who will be announced at the end of the month, will be chosen from the five companies that provided meters for the pilot project.
“We have divided the city into eight zones. The winning bidders will go into six zones because the other two areas, Mabvuku-Tafara and Borrowdale, usually have problems with access to water,” he said, adding that “while all areas are eventually earmarked for prepaid meters, it will take a long time to replace the meters and we are looking at about five to seven years to have a complete coverage of Harare”.
“Council will take on the obligation of installing the meters. We project to collect about 90 percent of the water debt when we install smart meters. Considering the money involved, the first phase might take 12 to 18 months to complete based on targets of the suppliers,” Chisango said.
He said each meter, depending on quality, will cost roughly $200 to $300 each.
Chisango said the target areas for the project will be the Central Business District, commercial zones and upmarket areas close to the city — like Belvedere, Milton Park and the Avenues.
The water director said in the long-term every, households in Harare will have prepaid meters so that “residents pay for what they consume”.
He however, said “once your credit is finished, you are advanced some water and when you pay from the district offices, the money for the advance is deducted”.
“The water tariff will be the same; the only difference is the fixed charge. Prepaid meters will give us the opportunity to remove the fixed charge and fuse it into the tariff,” Chisango elaborated.
“Eventually we will have to adjust our tariff because with prepaid meters, if we keep the fixed charge, one cannot pay for that and not get any water. So we want to make sure that people pay for what they consume,” he added.
Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) however, argues that there is no need for prepaid meters in the city, as the economic conditions in Zimbabwe were not conducive to their introduction.
Chra said introducing prepaid meters was tantamount to privatisation of water which could in the long-run undermine public health.
“At the moment some people are struggling to even buy prepaid electricity and when that is introduced for water it will mean that people will also not have access to the liquid. Statements by residents are in sharp contrast to what council is saying about smart meters. Even Member of Parliament for Dzivarasekwa Omega Hungwe told legislators that government should desist from installing prepaid meters as they go against peoples’ Constitutional Right to water,” Chra said.