WASHINGTON DC —
Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo has ordered urban and rural and councils to write off all rates and bills owed by residents from February 2009 to June 2013.
Mr. Chombo said the debt forgiveness, amounting to about $2 billion, will enable residents to start on a new slate.
The minister said local authorities were losing a lot of money by employing debt collectors to pursue the debts. Mr. Chombo urged councils to have a reliable follow-up operation in future to deal with such issues.
But some critics have called the minister’s move an election campaign gimmick, arguing that if he was genuine the policy should have been announced after the elections when new councillors and mayors are in place.
The MDC-T has also dismissed Chombo’s directive on the local authorities as irrational.
A statement released by the party noted “with great concern the populist directive”, adding that Zanu PF is trying to gain votes ahead of the polls.
But Mr. Chombo told VOA Studio 7 the money that the local authorities will lose through his directive will be ploughed back into the economy through other activities.
“This is based on sound national financial management. This debt management is four times the magnitude of the $500,000 which the International Monetary Fund injected into the national fiscal in 2008,” he claimed.
Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the minister should have written-off debts from February 2009 to December 2010, the time when councils used estimates instead of actual meter readings.
“As Harare Residents Trust, while we welcome this development as it tries to address major concerns raised by residents for a long time, we are concerned by the timing of this directive as it comes following the dissolution of the council,” Shumba said.