Harare writes off US$330m rates arrears Tendai Mahachi
Tendai Mahachi

Tendai Mahachi

Michael Chideme Municipal Reporter
HARARE City Council has written off debts amounting to US$330 million in line with a Government directive to scrap debts owed by residents from February 2009 to June 30, 2013. A few days before the elections Government ordered all 92 rural and urban councils to write-off debts owed by residents since February 2009 to June this year.

This followed complaints by residents’ associations over arrears caused by unjustified increases in rates and bills by MDC-T-led councils especially in urban areas.
Ratepayers and businesses who were up to date with their payments will enjoy a 30 percent discount until December as an incentive for their good behaviour.

Director of business development who is also responsible for revenue collection, Mr Cosmos Zvikaramba, confirmed “the alleviation to the city’s ratepayers”.
“Bills for residents who were in arrears would read the current monthly bills from August. We reduced all the debts to zero in line with the directive,” he said.

The debts reprieve only applies to individual ratepayers and not businesses.
He said ratepayers should with effect from July 1, 2013 pay their bills “timeously and religiously” to enable the city to discharge its service delivery mandate. The city has potential to collect up to US$21 million every month if all ratepayers honour their bills. The money is required to pay staff salaries, buy water treatment chemicals, pay off loans, buy fuel for refuse and service vehicles, road maintenance materials and equipment and to purchase medicines for the council’s clinics, among other essentials that keep the city afloat.

“What is critical for the city to continue service delivery is for residents to start honouring their current debts with effect from July 1,” he said.
Mr Zvikaramba said the July bill was sent out without the necessary adjustments. “The August bills will reflect the new start. We urge the people to pay the current July bills on the bills sent out and ignore the outstanding amounts accrued from previous months,” he said.

He said new bills would be dispatched in the next week.
On average the high-density composite bill is US$25 per month which means each household is required to pay that amount to the city to be in a position to enjoy requisite service delivery such as garbage collection, road maintenance, grass cutting, health and water delivery.

Town clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi said the city would manage if all ratepayers honour their current bills.
“We can manage with current inflows if everybody pays their bills on time,” he said.

All local authorities in Mashonaland East have complied with the Government directive while in some provinces individual councils have done so.
Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo said no council had an excuse for not complying with the directive.

He said the cancellation of debts would not affect the operations of councils as the majority of the debt was irrecoverable.
The MDC-T blasted the directive as populist on the part of Zanu-PF following Minister Chombo’s comments that the policy directive dovetailed with Zanu-PF’s pro-poor policies that sought to alleviate hardships induced by illegal sanctions.

Meanwhile, Bulawayo City Council has started complying with the Government’s directive to write off bills accumulated by residents in the last four years.
The development comes at a time when the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ), which last week vowed to defy the directive, has backed down on its stance.

UCAZ members are urban councils that were run by MDC-T councillors until after the just ended harmonised elections when the party lost its majority in some of the councils.

In an interview yesterday, Bulawayo City Council’s senior public relations officer Mrs Nesisa Mpofu said the local authority started cancelling residents’ debts over the weekend.

“We have initiated the procedure to comply with the Government’s directive to write off bills. So far, we are cancelling solid waste, rent and unit tax, also known as Value Added Tax (Vat),” said Mrs Mpofu.

She said the procedure should begin reflecting on residents’ bills next month.
Contacted for comment, UCAZ chairperson Alderman Femias Chakabuda said it was up to individual councils to make their own decisions regarding the issue.

“As an executive, we are not defying the order. Local authorities will make their own decisions as soon as councillors are sworn in and mayors are chosen,” said Ald Chakabuda.

The directive is meant to bring relief to millions of Zimbabweans who have been economically disempowered by illegal sanctions imposed by Western countries at the instigation of MDC-T in its bid to force regime change.

The Government has said the directive was irreversible.
Residents have urged the Government to also direct utilities such as Zesa and TelOne to write off debts.

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