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Bulawayo Defies Govt Order to Write Off All Residents' Debts

  • Nothando Sibanda

Bulawayo residents queue for water in a city that faces perennial water woes.

Bulawayo residents queue for water in a city that faces perennial water woes.

The Bulawayo City Council is set to clash with the local government ministry over its refusal to fully comply with a directive to cancel outstanding residents' debts.

Other local authorities have obliged but the city has partially complied, insisting it cannot afford to write-off all the debts.

On the other hand, the local authority says it will not hesitate to fire council officials who fail to fully implement the directive.

Unlike other local authorities in the country, the city council has only cancelled debts accrued over rates - leaving residents with water charge bills dating back to 2009.

It says revenue collection in the city has gone down drastically since Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo gave the directive just before the July 31 election.

Revenue collection in the city is down to $2.4 million from $6.9 million per month, a move the local authority says is devastating.

City public relations officer Bongiwe Ngwenya says the city may soon be asking residents to start boiling drinking water as it will find it difficult to pay for water treatment chemicals if it fully complies with the government order.

Local Government Permanent Secretary Killion Mpingo told the Chronicle newspaper that councils facing service delivery challenges should raise the issue with the ministry but only after complying with the directive.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association information officer, Zibusiso Dube, says the city’s reasons for not complying with the directive are vague, adding the local authority has been shortchanging residents anyway by using a faulty billing system.

Resident and political analyst Godwin Phiri says the council should be careful as the defiance may infuriate Harare, especially after the city voted overwhelmingly for the Movement for Democratic Change formation of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The city budget, he said, may not be approved by the ministry. He adds that interference from the ministry may also make it difficult for the council to deliver services to residents on time.

Harare has already complied with the directive cancelling debts amounting to $330 million from the $400 million it was owed. Chitungwiza cancelled rate arrears amounting to $40 million.
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