Business Climate Community Development

Imposing fines on litterbugs is a short-sighted intervention: HRT

Mr. Precious Shumba, the HRT Director

The real issue that requires urgent solutions is to provide an efficient and effective waste management service before thinking of punishing people

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Harare Residents Trust (HRT) Information

The Government’s intentions to fine local authorities up to US$5 000 for failure to collect garbage and individuals up to US$500 for throwing litter on the streets is ill-advised and lacks the collective support of the citizens. While society operates based on laws, regulations, customs, and other cultural practices, putting restrictive laws on the citizens and local authorities without addressing the institutional performance of public institutions is short-sighted and unsustainable in the medium to long term.

The real issue that requires urgent solutions is to provide an efficient and effective waste management service before thinking of punishing people. Once the local authorities have a functional refuse collection service, there would be justification to punish litterbugs.

In a draft statutory instrument, the government has proposed to impose fines not exceeding level 8 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such a fine and such imprisonment. The proposed penalties are too stiff to be transparently enforced. With the high levels of corruption by the municipal and state police, individual officers will pocket huge amounts of money in bribes. A fine in the region of US$30 is most likely to be paid. More revenues generated from littering should go towards the purchase of more bins and equipment.

Residents have for a long time raised concerns about the dismal failure of the council to collect garbage owing to a shortage of equipment, fuel, and refuse compactors. This has exposed residents to heaps of uncollected garbage, contaminating the environment and causing disease outbreaks. Unfortunately, despite noting these concerns, the responsiveness of the Environment Management Agency and the City of Harare to the uncollected garbage leaves a lot to be desired.

Residents continue to be billed for refuse collection but there is erratic refuse collection, with piles of uncollected garbage everywhere in Harare. There is a lack of transparency and accountability on the refuse collection funds. The residents’ expectation is always that the little revenue collected is put to good use for the improvement of the waste management services.

The imposition of multiple taxes and punitive fines on the citizens will not resolve the critical issues of human behaviour and building strong united communities concerned about their environment. Resorting to fining people without investing in building trust and confidence in public institutions shows that bureaucrats and policymakers have run short of ideas to address waste management challenges confronting local authorities.

Before making policies of this nature, the government’s bureaucracy needs to widely consult waste management experts so that the government’s policies adequately respond to the real needs of the people. A responsible government has a duty and obligation to positively respond to the concerns of residents as soon as they are raised. Acting with contempt and arrogance only worsens the relationship between the government and its people. Therefore, when pegging fines, laws, and regulations, the government should be informed by the collective will and conscience of the citizens, thus gaining the people’s trust and confidence.

In Harare, the government, through the Office of the President and Cabinet imposed an unwanted company to take control and manage the Pomona Dumpsite, which is a ratepayers’ asset. The City of Harare resolved to cancel the agreement with Geogenix BV but the government has insisted that the project should continue because it was granted national project status.

Sadly, the funds meant for Harare City Council under Section 301(3) of the Constitution, being the city’s allocation of the devolution funds, are allegedly being paid to Geo Pomona Waste Management (Pvt) Limited as payments for the delivery of garbage to Pomona Dumpsite at US$40 per tonne, depriving the City of Harare of revenues for its priority projects.

The HRT recommendations:

  1. The authorities should build their capacity to provide bin liners in the central business district and at shopping centres across the city, provision of adequate refuse collection vehicles at the expense of the Geo Pomona Waste Management Company, the establishment of waste collection centres across the suburbs, and a professional waste management team steering the implementation of the integrated solid waste management programme which is there but not being implemented.
  2. Given the recurrence of illegal dumpsites a few weeks after dump clearance and presidential-driven monthly clean-ups, the ideal is to revisit the Sunshine City status of yesteryear when people were responsible for their environment. Now, there is uncollected garbage all over the place. The question to ask is why this is happening.
  3. The planning of urban settlements should be revisited in line with the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29.12) and the modern urbanization trends of building compact communities with high-rise buildings with own service centres. If left unchecked this would lead to uncontrolled urban sprawl where people are building continuously outwards and increasing the cost of waste management. The distance travelled by refuse collection vehicles from the residential suburbs to the waste disposal sites needs to be well-managed to minimize the cost of refuse collection.
  1. This would take care of the rapid population growth which accelerated after the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina.
  2. The government of Zimbabwe needs to realign policies and laws to the constitution to enhance good governance.
  3. There is a need for the government to fully explain the new policy proposal and unpack how it will be implemented and enforced before it is turned into a tool for personal enrichment by police officers and municipal police.
  4. Geo Pomona Waste Management (Pvt) Limited should be compelled to provide refuse compactors to the City of Harare to enhance refuse collection in residential and industrial areas. This should be made possible through the renegotiation and review of the Memorandum of Agreement signed between the City of Harare and Geogenix BV, which the City of Harare resolved to cancel. The government insists that the project continue under the same hostile conditions. That is most unfortunate.
  5. Refuse collection funds generated from monthly rates should be ring-fenced and the funds should be only used for the purposes for which they have been collected from the residents.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende