24 August 2014

Zimbabwe: Service Delivery Hinged On ICTs

The City of Harare (COH) can benefit from harnessing the benefits that come with the use of information communication technologies (ITCs) by enhancing the participation of ordinary citizens, enhancing ICT use in revenue collection, improving the quality and delivery of critical services like water and health.

In sub-Saharan Africa over 40% of the population have access to a mobile device.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) estimates that by December 2013 Zimbabwe had a mobile device penetration of 103,5% or 13 518 887 users, representing an increase of 1 million users in less than one year.

Interestingly, Potraz also estimates that there were over 5 million Internet subscribers as of December 2013, representing a 39% growth over the year. Zimbabwe's population is estimated to be close to 13,6 million people.

These statistics are telling on the unprecedented growth in the use of technology in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, we have not seen any visible interest by the COH and other local authorities to harness this growing interest in ICTs to deliver quality services and enhance their operations.

One of the areas where the city can benefit from the use of ICTs is revenue management and collection.

There are allegations of leakages and illicit activities in revenue collection due to bill manipulation in Harare's local payment offices. The Combined Harare residents Association (CHRA) received over 1 000 reports of billing complaints in 2013 alone with residents alleging that their bills were either inflated or there had been no change in balance despite evidence of consistent payments.

This manipulation happens at various levels. Firstly, residents' payments at local offices are in some instances not credited to their accounts thereby prejudicing them of credit to their accounts.

The BIQ computer system that the city uses is not secure and is open to manipulation since payments are mostly done manually.

Secondly, residents who have high bills are sometimes asked to pay bribes so that the officials can manipulate the system and reduce outstanding amounts.

Thirdly, most of the bills that the city charges are from estimate meter readings, which means that residents are being billed using approximation figures that obviously prejudice them. The city has responded by proposing to install prepaid water meters. In an environment of revenue leakage and corruption, residents are opposed to this move.

In any case, there are concerns that prepaid water meters will most likely lead to privatisation of water and further push poor residents into poverty.

The City of Harare loses over 50% in water each day due to leakages. These leakages result from the fact that the water piping system is over 60 years old and can no longer manage to service the growing population.

It has simply outlived its lifespan. This leads to massive losses in revenue of close to US$150 million each year.

A group of engineers from the City of Munich proposed that if the city adopted varied ICT mechanisms to detect and manage water leaks, it could increase end-user water generation capacity by over 500 megalitres a day, and increase revenue by a potential of over US$100 million a year.

Coupled with possible use of Geographical Information Services (GIS), there is clear evidence that there would be massive benefits for both the City of Harare and residents.

Over the past few months Zimbabwe has witnessed unprecedented reports of massive corruption and obscene salaries.

I contend that this is just a tip of the iceberg. Corruption has permeated virtually every facet of life in Zimbabwe. The World Bank proposes that effective use of ICTs can promote transparency and accountability.

ICTs can help improve the access to information by ordinary citizens. This includes information on tenders adopted by council, including prices of goods purchased, information on government performance and expenditures, information on meetings with councillors, health alerts, and information on budgets for example. Beyond access to information, ICTs can be used to track the decisions and actions of the local authority.

They can also enhance the ability of citizens to track the activities of the local authority.

Mfundo Mlilo is the Executive Director of CHRA and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow.

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