THE Bulawayo City Council’s plans to introduce pre-paid water meters have been met with serious opposition from residents who feel this would push the essential commodity out of their reach.
Council planned to introduce pre-paid water meters starting with a pilot project in Cowdray Park in response to difficulties it faced in trying to collect revenue from ratepayers.
The local authority is owed millions of dollars by residents just a year after the government forced all councils to write off debts accrued between 2009 and July last year.
The populist directive was ostensibly meant to correct billing anomalies that arose in the aftermath of dollarisation, but some believed it was meant to help Zanu PF win last year’s harmonised elections.
A number of councils say they have been finding it difficult to encourage residents to pay their bills and the Bulawayo City Council is among those feeling the pinch.
The proposed pre-paid water meter system, which is similar to the one adopted by the Zimbabwe Electricity Authority, would force residents to pay their bills on time as failure to do so would result in water cuts.
However, lobby groups such as the Bulawayo Residents Association (Bpra) argue that the prepaid water metering system does not work well in poor communities such as Cowdray Park.
Bpra has petitioned council to stop the introduction of prepaid water saying poor people would be forced to use less water than they need for a healthy life, leading to outbreaks of diseases.
The association argues that it would thus make more sense to introduce the gadgets in high income areas where people can afford.
Zimbabwe’s cities, especially Bulawayo, are on the brink following massive company closures and the general economic meltdown.
Fewer and fewer residents can afford to pay their bills on time and this has crippled service delivery in most urban areas, Bulawayo included.
Therefore, the issue of water meters needs to be handled carefully for the local authority to balance the interests of the poor and its service delivery expectations. Dialogue would be key.