Local Govt minister rules out municipal debt write-off

Cabinet Ministers are sworn in at State House in Harare, Monday, December, 4, 2017. Newly appointed Cabinet ministers took their oath of office before President Mnangagwa and will run the country until elections set for 2018(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Ahead of the last 2013 general election that gave former president Robert Mugabe election triumph, government provided 100 percent debt relief to ratepayers.

Then Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo instructed all 92 local authorities in Zimbabwe to write-off residents’ rentals, unit tax, development levies, licences and refuse charges as at June 30 2013, as part of the ruling party’s election campaign.

The move strained councils’ public finances and undermined already ailing municipalities after millions in debt were written off for ratepayers

Fear was now rife that similar moves were being mulled ahead of next year’s general elections.

But new Local Government minister July Moyo said there was no way government could waive debts to ratepayers again to woo voters in the run-up to a make or break general election in 2018 where Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to run for president.

“With the current macro-economic thrust we are embarking on, a debt write-off will not work. It will not happen. Local authorities should be viable without depending on central government,” Moyo told the Daily News.

The remarks come as residents across the country owe more than $1 billion in unpaid bills in anticipation of having their debts written off again.

“The anticipated write-off has encouraged ratepayers not to pay bills, deepening malaise in the municipality already saddled with bad debt.

The Killer Zivhu-led Zimbabwe Local Government Association (Zilga) said the debt write off should not happen as it had burdened councils with debts.

“As the secretariat and executive of Zilga, we have said that we do not want another debt write-off. It left us with huge amounts of debts which we have been struggling to service since 2013.

“Some people who had the write-off have not paid anything since 2013 anticipating a repeat. We have spoken with the ministry of Local Government on the issue and they will get back to us,” secretary general Lucia Furamera said.

She said a repeat of the same mistake will cost ratepayers quality service delivery they pay for and deserve.

Due to the ill-advised write-off, many local authorities have been failing to provide basic services such as clean, safe water, refuse collection, street lighting and medical assistance at clinics.

Harare is owed more than $600 million, Bulawayo more than $150 million, Mutare over $41 million, Masvingo more than $42 million, Chitungwiza is owed more than $60 million, Kwekwe in excess of $30 million and Gweru more than $52 million.

Owing to the large debts local authorities had engaged debt collectors that are facing heavy resistance from ratepayers. DailyNews