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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Ratepayers cautious as minister Chombo orders debt write-off
    Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
    July 23, 2013

    View this article on the SW Radio Africa website

    Eyebrows have been raised after Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo instructed the country’s 92 local authorities to cancel all debt owed by residents.

    Chombo told journalists Monday that the directive was with immediate effect, and was in “line with Zanu-PF’s pro-poor policies”.

    Using his ministerial powers under the both the Rural District Council Act and the Urban Councils Act, Chombo said: “Councils are directed to write off debts in respect of rentals, unit tax, development levy, refuse charges and water and sewer fees as at June 30, 2013.

    “Similarly amounts owed by residents in respect of rates since February 2009 stand prescribed in terms of section 15 of the Prescription Act,” said Chombo.

    The Zanu-PF minister said the move was meant to bring relief to ratepayers whom he said were suffering as a result of illegal sanctions and local authority mismanagement by the MDC.

    In May, then Harare City Council Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda revealed that the local authority was owed $162 million for rates and services, with government departments accounting for $130 million of this debt. It is unclear whether Chombo’s order extends to government departments as well.

    Chombo’s move has been cautiously welcomed by ratepayers, with many questioning the timing of the write off, just eight days before a watershed election.

    Reacting to Chombo’s announcement on Facebook, former journalist Methuseli Moyo wrote: “IZnau iyazenza izinto (Zanu-PF never ceases to amaze), they’ve just cancelled $500 I owed the Bulawayo City Council. But the timing speaks for itself.”

    Others said that it was nothing more than vote-buying being extended to urban constituencies, with Dorothy Ncube writing: “In the rural areas they are using food parcels, and for urban dwellers, it’s bill cancellation.

    Others likened the directive to a donkey that comes to one’s homestead bearing a bag of maize: “You take the bag and let the donkey go,” said Mthabisi Dube.

    Khanyile Mlotshwa said this was a clever act by Zanu-PF: “They know that no-one will dare question this without running the risk of being unpopular with voters ahead of the election.”

    Bheki Jakobe however questioned the wisdom of the minister’s order, saying this was going to affect local authorities’ revenue inflows and their capacity to procure water treatment chemicals among other things. These are the policies that bring the country to its knees, as we saw with the BACOSSI,” Jacobe added.

    The BACOSSI (Basic Commodity Supply-Side Intervention) was part of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s quasi-fiscal policies that also became an important campaigning tool and a carrot to reward those who voted for Zanu-PF in 2008.

    SW Radio Africa was not able to get reactions from the Harare City Council as the phone in Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi’s office was not being answered.

    Bulawayo City Council’s public relations officer Nesisa Mpofu said the directive had not yet been officially communicated to the authority and as such, she could not comment.

    Precious Shumba, director at Harare Residents’ Trust which led the petition for the debt cancellation, said rate payers were happy that their petition had been granted.

    “On 19 October 2012 we petitioned the authorities to cancel all debt accrued from February 2009 to December 31st 2010 – a period we strongly believed was most difficult for residents and no tangible services were rendered during this period.

    “We however believe that from 2011 people would have recovered financially to be able to pay their rates. What we have always contested is to ask people to pay for services that were not rendered,” Shumba added.

    “We also feel that the timing is suspicious, and we also view with caution the fact that the directive wasn’t in writing, and is yet to be communicated to us or the authorities. Any incoming council can reverse the verbal order,” Shumba said.

    Shumba also expressed concern that the directive comes at a time when authorities are being run by caretaker commissions, following the expiry of the life of parliament on June 29th.

    He said the announcement should have been made during the tenure of elected councilors, to ensure the cancellation was factored into budget projections.

    SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe's Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m band.

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