EDITORIAL COMMENT: Rights come with responsibilities

herald-online-thACCESS to water is a basic human right that no one should be denied. As a country this is one of our major development goals and the Government through its various agencies must be seen to be genuinely striving to bring this about. Given that background we understand the decision by some civic organisations to take the City of Harare to court for illegal water disconnections to defaulting households. However, we would like to point out that court injunctions are band aids and will not solve the real problems at hand.

Residents should understand that rights come with responsibilities so their right to access water has a flip side in the form of the responsibility to pay for it. Although water is a natural resource, treatment and distribution cost the municipalities. How can the city council continue to supply the precious commodity if all residents decide that it is their right to simply access it without paying for it?

When residents refuse to pay for water consumed they are simply prejudicing those who are compliant and also jeopardising their own future supplies. Residents should also realise that failure to pay on time pushes up the cost of the water as the legal charges faced by the municipality will eventually end up on the resident’s utility bill.

We also urge residents to consider the long effects of blindly following the teachings of civil society organisations that seem to believe in confrontations and the pushing of half-baked ideas on rights, instead of concentrating on effective solutions that will ultimately benefit the groups that they reportedly represent.

We would like to point out that even in Western countries like the United States service providers cut off water supplies for non-payment of bills.

Right now people in some high density suburbs are forced to buy water from push cart vendors at a cost of one dollar for a 100 litres. Even with the most economy, it is a stretch for this amount to fully cater for a family of six or more for one day. On the other hand the municipal bill component for water only is around $10 for the month.

But the municipal authorities must not abuse their position of having control over the survival basic and embark on illegal and inhuman actions. They must follow laid down procedures when effecting debt recovery. The municipal authorities also owe the residents delivery of services charged for. Some people whose water supplies are being arbitrarily cut off dispute the estimate bills presented by the city. The local authorities have also come under fire for corruption and mismanagement.

Inflated wage bills and expenditure on none-core activities like workshops and trips gobble up too large a percentage of the revenue. Currently, the City of Harare is embroiled in a legal dispute with suspended Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi, a matter in which the residents could potentially watch the man who made a big mess of service delivery walk away with millions of dollars while the rate payers go without water in their taps.

Municipalities need to get their houses in order and deliver the services that are under their mandate. Only then will the necessary trust be engendered between the two parties so that residents feel that they are paying for what they consume rather than being fleeced to finance luxurious lifestyles for undeserving bureaucrats.

We would suggest that stakeholders come up with effective social security measures to protect the genuinely needy. Just as we have the Basic Education Assistance Module to ensure that disadvantaged children get a basic education, we should be developing policies that ensure that the aged, child-headed families, those with disabilities and other vulnerable groups have access to subsidised water while the rest of the residents pay for it at the set rates.

The introduction of pre-paid meters would also help instil budgetary discipline in residents who seem to have developed marked antipathy towards meeting their responsibilities. The system has already been proven to be effective in the energy sector in this country and in the water systems of countries like Namibia.