Today (29 Sept 2022) MIHR met with the top management of the Bulawayo City Council’s Department of Finance to discuss critical matters relating to billing and water shedding. The meeting was a result of the citizens’ petition that was signed by 1513 residents and delivered to BCC by MIHR on the 20th of September 2022.
In today’s meeting, the local authority explained their billing system, why they do bills estimates, the methodology for rationalizing and rectifying estimates anomalies, the reasons for exorbitant bills and how they attend to them, and the measures they are enacting to have a smart billing system.
The local authority explained the various reasons that force them to do estimated billing which include workload, locked premises, loose dogs on premises, non-functioning water meters, and the impact of Covid19 among others. They further explained that the estimates are based on a 3 month average of the previous bills and they try to ensure that after every two months they do actual billing. However, they have now introduced a new system where residents can send their meter readings to the Council for capturing into the system and this is done in phases as each suburb is allocated a district and dates for the submission. They further explained that they now encourage residents to register to view their bills online.
Very High Bills
The local authority also explained the stepped tariff system which is based on the amount of water consumed per premise. They also explained that due to delayed actual meter reading, some households find themselves with huge bills which is a meter reading technicality and after they have verified they normally reverse those overcharges. Demonstrations were done with some bills where the participants had a appreciation of the billing system and how reversals for overcharging are rectified.
Interventions for Smart Billing
There are a number of interventions the local authority is undertaking to promote smart billing and these include:
1. Encouraging residents to read their own meters and send to the local authority either via whatsapp or phone calls or physical submission at the Council office;
2. E-Registration to be able to view the bills online.
The meeting ended on a positive note with the local authority accepting suggestions from the participants and some of these suggestions included:
- The need for the local authority to consider a live chat system for bills queries;
- The idea of development of a bills chat box by Bulawayo City Council;
- The need for the Council to have a look at the closed meters because residents are told to go and bring their meter readings but the new meters are closed and unreadable;
- The idea of sustained quarterly engagement meetings outside the budget consultations;
- The importance of BCC and MIHR and other stakeholders to educate residents on how to read and interpret their bills;
- The importance of all stakeholders encouraging residents to register for the online system and to also submit their meter readings to Council;
- The need for sustained positive dialogue and engagement especially when there are queries on bills and also when there are suggestions;
- The need to encourage residents to pay their bills always and on time.
The engagement meeting was made possible with the support of End Water Poverty.