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Haunted by debt night and day

Netsai Kasirori (27) cautiously spreads an old blanket on the shiny, polished floor of a virtually empty living room.

Old paint tins are neatly placed in each corner of the room, serving as seats.

Her hospitable nature seems to override any sense of embarrassment she might have as she politely ushers us into the house.

In May last year, Well Cash debt collectors – engaged by the Harare City Council – descended on Kasirori’s Highfield home and took the little furniture her parents left her before they passed on.

“I am unemployed and I take care of my 23-year-old sister who is mentally challenged,” she told The Sunday Mail last week. “They took a few belongings that our parents had left us before passing on, a kitchen unit that I had bought and a six-piece sofa set. I was devastated. I know I will never replace that furniture. Although it was old, it was all that I had. What is worrying now is the debt keeps ballooning despite attaching our furniture. We now fear there are going to evict us from this house so to recover their money.”

Harare Mayor councillor Bernard Manyenyeni last week ordered the council to instruct debt collectors engaged by the municipality to stop going after defaulters.

In a letter sent to acting town clerk Ms Josephine Ncube, Clr Manyenyeni admitted the process of getting defaulters to pay had been brutal.

“The current issue of debt collectors requires that we revisit this approach in view of the following: there appears to be a perceived bias towards the lower-income suburbs of the city whose targets are largely victims of the current economic environment,” part of his instruction read.

“The debt recovery methods employed so far have been reportedly brutal and at best arrogant. The yields from the exercise are reportedly way below the true value of the assets sold and also below the amounts owed. This has created lose-lose result for both council and the affected. The correctness of outstanding debts to council is contested for a significant number of the ratepayers targeted, especially for water accounts to residents who are not receiving water supply at all.

“We have not come clean on the chicken and egg argument by the targeted ratepayer’s challenging council about service delivery. However this should really not be an excuse. Please can you suspend the current exercise until council has received and approved a more equitable relationship with our debtors through a correct and sustainable financial programme.”

The Harare City Council is owed over US$600 million by residents, industries and Government departments. Council hired Well Cash Debt Collectors in 2015 and as of September 30 last year, US$111 million had been collected.

Residents, however, say the actions by the local authority are unreasonable as it is failing to provide efficient services. Harare city acting corporate communications manager Mr Michael Chideme said the full council was yet to holistically deliberate on disengaging the services of debt collectors.

“We are still using Well Cash Debt Collectors and if there is any change by way of council resolution it will be communicated to the residents,” he said.

But for residents like Kasirori, council deliberations and resolutions do not matter anymore. It is all now too little too late.

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