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Minister says councils allowed to engage debt collectors to recover dues

Local authorities should find measures to entice their debtors to pay and improve their income using available revenue sources so they can be able to provide basic services as well as pay employees who are going for months without salaries, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister July Moyo has said.

Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, July Moyo
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, July Moyo

Most local authorities are failing to pay workers and provide basic services as they are owed millions by business, residents and Government.

Revenue sources for local authorities include but not limited to real estate tax on commercial buildings, rates, land lease charges, land tax, building fees, licences and market place fees.

Local government experts say there are not many sustainable options for funding outside of the traditional rates and for now councils can only right size, improve operational efficiency, improve billing accuracy and debt collection.

Addressing Parliament during a question and answer segment on Wednesday, Minister Moyo said local authorities are entitled to come up with ways of raising revenue like engaging debt collectors and offering discounts to residents.

“The local authority has the power to find measures that will entice their debtors to pay. Others have engaged debt collectors and some have cut the debts but that is done by the council. When the council sits as a council, they can come up with measures on their own, not because there is Government policy that mandates them to do that,” he said.

“Yesterday (Tuesday), I had a meeting with the treasurers of all urban local authorities, 32 of them. What we realised is that the councillors — and we know what the councillors are like — they do not understand where the money that they use should come from. I also realised that the treasurers were also not implementing the policy concerning money that should be used by local authorities and used in what way.”

Minister Moyo was responding to questions from Buhera South legislator Cde Joseph Chinotimba who wanted to know if the Minister was aware that local government employees were going for months without pay and Kwekwe Central MP Masango Matambanadzo, who wanted to know the fate of residents who did not benefit from discount offers.

Minister Moyo added that Government expects those working for local authorities to be paid on time but local authorities were failing to do so hence Government was engaging them in an effort to consider how they were getting their revenue and what they use it for.

“We are in the process of trying to come to an understanding as to how sources of revenue should be used. That is what will enable them to pay their workers on time. Currently, most of the local authorities, Harare included, are behind in terms of payment of salaries to employees.

“We want all of them to revisit their budgets and if they see it as a challenge they should come up with supplementary budgets to ensure that the employees are remunerated timeously. If Government had money it could assist local authorities that would be struggling but currently Government does not have finances, so it cannot give the local authorities that assistance.”

Renowned town planner and local governance expert Dr Percy Toriro said there are not many sustainable options for local government funding outside of the traditional rates, fees and charges among others.

“I have heard suggestions that councils can make money from businesses. This happened in the past with beer selling when the sector was a monopoly. Current economic reality does not give many options,” he said. The Chronicle