Felex Share Herald Reporter
PEOPLE from all walks of life, who had been weighed down by rates and rental arrears, have started benefiting from Zanu-PF’s decision to cancel bills with many jubilant families receiving revised water bills this month. A few days before the harmonised elections, Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo directed the country’s 92 local authorities to scrap all debts accrued by residents from February 2009 to June 30, 2013.
The move — aimed at releasing millions of dollars locked in insurmountable debts — came in the wake of the realisation that sanctions-induced hardships had destroyed the livelihoods of many, condemning them into a debt spiral from which they were unlikely to emerge, and which put many at the risk of losing their houses.
However, MDC-T which dominated most urban councils and was accused of levying astronomical amounts and its civil society allies opposed the move claiming it was a campaign political gimmick.
Several local authorities have since implemented the directive with Harare and Chitungwiza among the major local authorities that have heeded the directive.
Harare has written off US$330 million while Chitungwiza scrapped over US$40 million.
Jubilant residents interviewed by The Herald in Harare and Chitungwiza yesterday said it was clear Zanu-PF had the people’s interests at heart.
Many confessed that they were sceptical until they received revised, manageable bills this month.
“At first we dismissed the announcement as the usual political statements to woo our votes,” said Mbuya Rosemary Kajauchire of Rugare.
“I owed council close to US$1 000 but as you can see only US$60 is reflecting on my bill for the month of July and August. This is a promise that has been fulfilled and it is our hope that Government continues being sensitive to out plight,” she said.
Ambuya Kujauchire said without writing off the debt, there was no way she was going to clear it.
“The money that I get as a pensioner is little and how was I going to clear the debt? It means, the bill would have continued to balloon and who knows probably my house would have been taken away,” she said with a smile.
Several people, including widows and orphans, countrywide, had their houses repossessed by councils with some being grabbed by corrupt MDC-T councillors over outstanding debts in the last four years.
President Mugabe has since assured the victims of such acts that they would get their houses back.
Another Harare resident, Mr Saul Beans who owed Harare City Council US$2 180 commended President Mugabe for walking his talk.
He said the huge bills they had were unjustified.
“Obviously the directive came from the President (Mugabe) and I thank him for taking such a bold decision,” he said.
“We can now start afresh and I do not see ourselves being in such debts again. We will try to be up to date so that council is able to carry out its work.”
Others said the move had shamed MDC-T which saw the scrapping of debts as impossible.
Harare Resident Trust co-ordinator Mr Precious Shumba said residents should now honour their financial obligations.
He said what was left was for the city to work on its billing system.
“The current billing system is open to manipulation by City treasury officials and other senior managers who have unhindered access to the system’s servers,” he said.
“It is the billing system in place that has resulted in most residents failing to settle their bills in the past, where bills continue to rise, even when attempts are made to clear them. The HRT is expecting the new council to be more transparent in its handling of public affairs, and to be more accountable when it comes to dealing with public finances.”
Local, Government, Rural and Urban Development secretary Mr Killian Mupingo urged residents to be responsible.
The Government, he said, found it appropriate to scrap the debts as it was evident that they would never be settled.
“They expect good service delivery and we also expect them to pay now that their arrears have been cleared,” he said.
“Government heard their challenges and addressed them and we now want to move forward with all residents paying for services rendered. The challenges were ushered in by the sanctions and this is one way to cushion our people from the embargo.”
Britain, the US and their allies, at the behest of the MDC formations, imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe that cut the country’s lines of credit from all multi-lateral lending institutions.