As a Harare resident, I am are totally against the move by the local authorities to impose prepaid water meters upon the citizenry of this country who are struggling to make ends meet.
Our economy has been on a massive decline ever since the day the government chose to embrace neoliberal policies by the Bretton Woods institutions in the early 1990s.Our government adopted the Economic and Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) without consulting the civil society or the citizens. This culture of sidelining the citizens persisted even during the time that the government gave unbudgeted gratuities to war veterans. The government also participated in the DRC war.All this happened without popular consen the people have been sidelined for too long on issues that have a bearing on their welfare.
Since our government claims to uphold democracy we thus want to bring forth some of the tenets of democracy that we feel have not been upholded for the benefit of the citizens.
Democracy promotes citizen participation in governance issues. The citizens may participate through political parties, civil society or as individuals. Hence before any policy that concerns the citizens is enacted the citizens have to be consulted first.
The elected government must be able to translate its pre-election pledges (enshrined in its manifesto) into concrete policies. If it fails then the citizens have the democratic mandate to participate in ways that make the government accountable for its policies.
In that vein of accountability, we therefore urge local authorities to first consult the people before imposing on them pre-paid water meters.Water is not a privilege of the rich but a basic human right. If the provision of water is done through a market based mechanism, then our government would have failed to execute its role as a welfare state.
The World Health Organization (WHO) specifies that every individual must have access to at least 50-100 liters of water per day. With the introduction of pre-paid water meters, the people will not be able to access the stipulated quantities, they will be limited to only what they can afford not what they actually require.
WHO further outlines that, the source of water must not be more than 1000 metres away from the home and collection must not exceed 30 minutes.In Harare people travel long distances to reach the nearest borehole. They spend many hours fetching water. Most of the mainly affected people are women, children and those people with special needs.
The country’s unemployment rate is over 95%, the consumer basket is at $511, and about 65% of the people survive on less than $1/day. The people also have to pay tuition fees and health fees among other expenses yet at the same time they are expected to pay their water bills in full.
Prepaid water bills entails that the people have to pay for water before using it. If they fail, then they have to rely on alternatives like unprotected wells and boreholes. Unprotected water sources spread water borne diseases like Typhoid, dysentery, cholera etc. The residents will therefore be exposed to such diseases.
If the government engages the citizens, they will be able to proffer solutions from a practical point of view. A government official, who resides in the low density suburbs who has a borehole at his/her residence, cannot make objective decisions with regards to what the citizens want.
It is therefore our hope that the installation of pre-paid water meters be halted while the people are consulted first rather than to imposing the pre-paid water meters on them. The culture of enacting laws without popular consent has been going on for too long. Its high time the government respects its citizens who are struggling to make ends meet.