Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
LOCAL authorities are not allowed to arbitrarily attach property from residents or engage debt collectors to recover outstanding debts of rates and levies, but should pursue other options to recover the money they are owed.
Responding to questions from backbenchers in Parliament last week, Public Works and National Housing Deputy Minister Marian Chombo said councils needed to engage their residents so that the money for needed services was paid without wrecking the lives of those who owed money.
Chiwundura legislator Livingstone Chimina had asked what the Government policy was regarding attachment of private property by local authorities to settle debts.
Deputy Minister Chombo said Government had already made its position clear to all local authorities through a circular sent several years ago. There had been no change and that policy still stood.
“There has not been any other circular to supersede this one, so it is still in effect. We are bound by the Constitution. Councils have to provide things like water and so forth.
“But you really cannot go out or cut the livelihood of the common person. So, there should be other means for them to be able to collect that rather than engaging debt collectors who are going to charge even more,” said Deputy Minister Chombo.
“Let us say that you owe $100. They (debt collectors) can end up requesting you to pay more than $500 in charges. So we are just encouraging local authorities to engage other means rather than engaging debt collectors who are going to pile more debts on the consumer.”
In the circular addressed to all local authorities and provincial administrators, Government said it had noted that the majority of people living in communal and resettlement areas were confronted with challenges in meeting their financial obligations due to councils.
“We appreciate that local authorities were not spared by this economic quagmire of the previous years, as alluded to above, yet they are expected to provide basic services, some of them of a human rights nature such as health, water and basic sanitary facilities to the same marginalised communities,” reads the circular.
“Therefore, the need for active participation and involvement of all stakeholders in terms of financial and material support cannot be over emphasised. However, this ministry has noted with great concern, the engagement of debt collectors to induce payment of levies to local authorities by those who may not be in a position to raise the expected amounts.”
It was noted that the assigned debt collectors would in some instances confiscate scotch carts, ploughs, wheel barrows, livestock among other valuables further impoverishing residents.
“This ministry is therefore, directing all local authorities to desist from contracting debt collectors to recover unpaid levies with immediate effect. The practice of engaging debt collectors is prohibited forthwith,” the circular reads.
Responding to another question, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Felaix Mhona said Government was working on upgrading the Kuwadzana and Warren Park traffic circles in Harare so as to reduce congestion and road carnage.
“I must agree with the Honourable Member that it has taken long and we are also trying to push. Another stumbling block is that some of the contractors when they are given these tasks, they might not move with speed as anticipated.
“One of the measures that have been put in place is the addition of two slip lanes on both traffic circles to allow motorists to change roads without entering the traffic circle. This reduces the volume of traffic entering the circle by introducing left-in and left-out lanes before and after the traffic circle, thus increasing road safety,” he said.