Government has urged local authorities to use whatever means at their disposal, including debt collectors to recover money owed by ratepayers following revelations that most councils are collecting less than 50 percent of what they bill residents.
Interestingly, the use of debt collectors is before the High Court where their legality has been challenged. It is being argued that there is no Act of Parliament that empowers debt collectors to demand payment, to issue threats or summons on behalf of creditors.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing permanent secretary Engineer George Mlilo said in an interview yesterday that councils could engage debt collectors, but should first consider the plight of residents, most of whom were struggling to make ends meet.
"We have noticed that service delivery is deteriorating because local authorities are struggling to get beyond 50 percent of billed revenue," he said.
"We think the reason is people were expecting a debt write off like what happened in 2013. "The ministry has made it clear that there will not be another debt write-off. We are urging local authorities to go out in full force and persuade residents to pay. They should make them understand that for councils to provide good services they should play their part."
Eng Mlilo said residents needed to understand that councils use money to buy fuel for refuse collection, road maintenance and construction and the provision of clean portable water, among other services.
He said local authorities would have to be persuasive to ensure residents knew their role in service delivery and in the event that they used debt collectors, they had to consider the prevailing economic situation.
A few days before the 2013 elections, Government ordered all 92 rural and urban councils to write-off debts owed by residents since February 2009 to June 2013.
This followed complaints by residents' associations over arrears caused by unjustified increases in rates and bills by MDC-T-led councils, especially in urban areas.
Local authorities have been arguing that the directive by Government for local authorities to write off debts had crippled councils Harare wrote off debts amounting to $330 million in line with the Government directive.
Recently, Harare City Council finance director Mr Tendai Kwenda said half of Harare residents were not paying their bills, while Government and business were also major defaulters.