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Why pay for service you don’t get?

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A few weeks ago, I found a leaking water pipe where I stay. I phoned a plumber, who came to look that very day, who reported that unfortunately the leak was below the meter – Which meant as a private plumber they weren’t allowed to do the work on the leak – I had to get in touch with City of Harare, as the leak was on their system.

The good news, I suppose, is that at least that meant there was a trickle of municipal water flowing through the system. The bad news was that I needed City of Harare to do the work.

After three weeks of phoning them several times each week, the City finally sent a crew round to take a look. They closed off the connection to the city water service, dug up the problematic pipe, and found it so corroded it practically crumbled when they lifted it out of the ground. But, they said, they couldn’t do anything more – They don’t have the material. So they left.

I phoned them again this morning to find out what to do now. We don’t have the material, I was told, but if you want us to do the work “chop chop” you can buy what we need and we can come do the work. If I have to buy the material myself, I asked, can I not just hire a private plumber to come and do the work? Nope – The problem is below the meter. So, I ask, I’m no plumber. How do I know what I need to get? We can come today to take another look and give you a list of supplies you can buy.

So, it takes three weeks for the City to come and address the problem in the first place. But coming to take a look to come up with a shopping list for a hostage resident is a same-day service.

Oh, and, it was very clear on the phone – They won’t pay me back for whatever I get.

Unfortunately, in a spirit of civic mindedness, I have been faithfully paying my council bills since 2009, so I won’t benefit from the write off of debts to the City. And, in all this time, my bill paying has resulted in sporadic rubbish collection, occasional patching of potholes (which doesn’t come anywhere close to addressing the dire state of our roads), street lights which don’t function, and a municipal water supply conspicuous by its absence. To add insult to injury, even as a rate payer, I don’t benefit from any investment in the city’s infrastructure – I have to buy my own material to ensure that the City will do work I am not allowed to contract a private plumber to do. Tell me again, what’s the incentive to continue to pay?

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