LOCAL authorities in the country have been ordered to totally cancel all bills that residents have been accruing since 2009. The authorities, after interpreting the directive by Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo, were partially writing off the bills and leaving the water charges.
Water normally forms the bulk of bills in urban areas.
In an interview on Thursday, Dr Chombo said local authorities should write off all bills that fall under their control.
“They should write off all bills under their jurisdiction including water bills. If they have an issue in terms of supply of water, they should come to us and we would assist them to put pressure on Zinwa (Zimbabwe National Water Authority) to do the same,” said Dr Chombo.
Zinwa is in charge of bulk water supply from both surface and underground sources in the country.
On being told that local authorities were saying there was nothing in the directive that instructs them to cancel water debts, Dr Chombo said the directive was all-encompassing.
“There is something that directs them to write off tariffs and everything that falls under that they should write off. Let us start with that,” said Dr Chombo.
The Minister said he was looking forward to local authorities implementing the directive so that residents are given something to cheer about.
“We are on the route to give residents a semblance of service delivery, not the pittance they have been getting,” he said.
Last week Dr Chombo said Government would not hesitate to fire any council official or councillor who caused the directive to be disobeyed.
A number of local authorities, including Bulawayo and Harare City Council, Masvingo Municipality, Victoria Falls, Gwanda and Gweru had started partial cancellation of the bills. The directive dated 23 July reads; “It has become apparent that the economy has not been operating optimally and in the process relentlessly unleashing severe hardships on the citizenry. Thus from 2009, ratepayers have not been able to meet their obligations in terms of payment of taxes, rentals, levies and related charges resulting in an enormous and crippling debt burden frustrating the majority of the population.”
“Given the above circumstances, all local authorities are in terms of Section 133 of the Rural District Councils Act (Chapter 29:13) as read with Section 303 of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15) directed to write off debts in respect of rentals, unit tax, development levies, licences and refuse charges owed by individual ratepayers as at 30 June 2013. In the same vein, money owed by residents for rates, stands prescribed in terms of the Prescription Act (Chapter 8:13) as from February 2009 to 30 June, 2013.”
The directive is meant to bring relief to millions of Zimbabweans who have been economically disempowered by illegal sanctions, which the MDC-T invited from its Western sponsors in a bid to force regime change.
The Government has said the directive is irreversible and not a political campaign gimmick as alleged by other people.
Bill arrears in Harare stand at about $400 million, in Bulawayo residents owe council $100 million, residents owe Mutare City Council $20 million while in Kwekwe, unpaid bills amount to about $9,5 million.
Bulawayo residents have applauded Minister Chombo for coming to their rescue.
Residents have urged the Government to also direct utilities such as Zesa and TelOne to also write off debts.