Even before 2005, Consumers have had numerous problems in relation to service providers, especially City Councils. The year 2005 stands out in the minds of consumers, because everything that could have gone wrong with City Councils services reached the peak in 2005. It is very easy to call to mind the problems consumers experienced, because they are still living these problems:
- Uncollected refuse – in some cases for over four or more months
- Rubbish collecting in landfills, between houses
- Burst water pipes and sewer
- Long grass creating hazards for motorists and breeding place for mosquitos
- Potholes, some of them the size of craters, also a great hazard to motorists
- Poor demarcation of roads and islands in the middle of the roads
- Broken down traffic lights
- Scheduled water cuts and in some instances, no water at all for days on end
- Poor street lighting
It has come to a point where consumers’ despair, wondering where all the monies they pay towards rates go to. And it is not the case that consumers do not want to pay for good services; the question and worry in their minds is that even if they pay, will they get the purchased services considering that it is many years since they got any reliable service at all.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe would want to propose that the answer to this impasse is “Utilities Provision Service Charter”. This is not a new invention – we have seen the ZRP launching service charters. This is an agreement by the service provider that it promises to provide a number of services and also laying down the agreed time within which complaints would be responded to – for example, if a burst pipe is reported the problem / or response time will be within twenty four hours, or that potholes would be mended within thirty six hours.
Once a service charter is launched, the service provider will be held accountable or in extreme cases if it is repairs that need to be done are on an individual’s property, then the service provider would pay for the delay.
The beauty of a ‘Service Charter’ is that consumers will have an instrument to bring to account and in some cases rebate from the provider and on the other hand, the service provider will have a tool to measure its performance and develop efficiency and effectiveness. For both the consumer and the service provider, who does not want to achieve such a well-oiled relationship, which is mutually beneficial? It is high time the City Councils become accountable for their actions, develop a code of conduct and improve their visibility.
Most City Councils have advertised their budgets for 2006 and the new rates for various services. The cost to consumers is mind boggling, considering the poor and shoddy services that they have had to put up with in the last year. Consumers will need more than lip service to justify and reassure them that these hikes in rates will surely translate into prompt and efficient service provision, that refuse will be collected at specific times and at regular, scheduled days, that potholes, burst pipes and sewers will be timeously repaired.
Consumers’ confidence in City Councils capacity is at a very low ebb and the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe sees ‘Service Charters’ as a way of restoring that confidence. Furthermore, City Councils can once more emerge as partners in the turnaround of our country’s fortunes, rather than be the drain they have been.