The Harare City Council (HCC) has failed to efficiently implement its smart-city prepaid meter water scheme with residents from the Western parts of city complaining that they are failing to access the prepaid water tokens through the Zimpayments platform without any prior notice from the institution.
Residents who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity noted that they realizedthey could not purchase water tokens when their prepaid tokens had already depleted.
“I only learnt that I could not purchase the precious liquid after my prepaid token had depleted. The council did not issue any information statement to this effect, I was only surprised to notice that the prepaid water tokens have been removed from the portal” said one resident.
When contacted for comment, the HCC office professed ignorance about the matter and referred all questions to the council spokesperson Chideme whose phone was unavailable at the time of publishing.
Investigations by this publication revealed that the Mabelreign district office that harbors parts of these western suburbs was also not aware of the installed prepaid water meters with indications that a private contractor might have been engaged by a different council office without their knowledge.
However, the Mabelreign District chief superintendent, Isaac Mushandu confirmed having received cases of residents affected by the token system, but did not elaborate further as to why they were now replacing them with the conventional meters.
“We have so far received 6 six cases from the affected residents, but we have since replaced them with conventional meters” he said.
The rolling out of these prepaid water meters started in 2017, with residents associations such as Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) arguing that Harare was not ready to install the meters, as residents did not receive a constant water supply and that the city is without the economic and infrastructure frameworks to support a roll out.
According to CHRA: “At the moment 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 the residents however, contrasted with what the council said about smart meters.
In 2018, the HCC Spokesperson, Michael Chideme confirmed that all modalities for the installation have been finalised.
According to Chideme: “All the necessary approvals are now available and implementation modalities have been finalised. The target areas include Mbare, Sunningdale and other areas that receive water daily”.
ZINWA public relations manager Marjorie Munyonga also waged in and said: “The successful trials of the prepaid water meters in Mvurwi and Chivhu will now pave way for the implementation of the prepaid water metering system at a larger scale”
“Implementation of the prepaid water meters is one of the long-term strategies that ZINWA is employing to improve its revenue collection and curb its growing debtors’ book” she added
The Member of Parliament for Dzivarasekwa Omega Hungwe raised this in parliament and told legislators that government should desist from installing prepaid meters, as they go against people’s constitutional right to water.
Consumer representatives outside Harare also spoke against the installation of prepaid water meters.
Gweru Residents’ Forum said: “smart water meters will prevent constant flow of potable water and this will also introduce major health risks to communities”.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association information officer, Zibusiso Dube also said: “If anything, the council is barking up the wrong tree, for the study shows that the non-payment of water services is not the biggest challenge the council is facing, where water services are concerned.
“…the council is faced with a huge challenge of reducing levels of non-revenue water which stood at 69% of water produced. In fact, it’s real losses which include water losses due to leakages on transmission and/or distribution mains, leakages and overflows on storage facilities and leakages on service connections. Councils are just losing millions of dollars through leakages”.
The German based GIZ released a report in 2015, Assessment and opportunities of prepaid metering systems in Zimbabwean Municipalities, which demonstrated local authorities’ lack of readiness for a wide scale roll out.
The World Bank also warned about the lengthy period of time it would take to recover associated costs.
“Prepaid meters will cost the city US$150 – US$210 per unit…” reads a World Bank statement