Thousands risk losing properties over unpaid bills USD: Image taken from Shutterstock

Peter Matika, [email protected]

THOUSANDS of Bulawayo residents may lose their properties if they default on paying their bills, the Bulawayo City Council has warned.

More than 2 000 households have reportedly had their water supplies disconnected as the council seeks to recover a staggering US$45,8 million from debtors. 

At least 622 households in Lobengula suburb alone have been referred to BCC’s legal section to recover debts through court proceedings, according to the latest council minutes. 

Although property attachment is the last resort to recovering debts, residents’ associations and the council’s legal team held a meeting, where the council’s representative, Mr Dickson Moyo, warned that residents are at risk of losing their properties through litigation proceedings in court. 

He said the council has an open-door policy that enables residents to engage to avoid the tedious process of litigation.

“Each month, there are statements sent to residents showing the consumption for the month and the amount they are supposed to pay. 

“The water bill states at the bottom the amount due for the particular month, which is a way to remind residents whether their debt is increasing or decreasing. 

“We do this so residents can liaise with our offices if they are facing any challenges or don’t understand their bills,” said Mr Moyo.

He said despite sending out monthly statements and notices before disconnections and legal action, many residents ignore them.

“There are processes that are undertaken before all this. Summons are issued beforehand. These come from the courts through the messenger of court. If the legal section receives a list of houses owing this much, we then issue summons, which we take to the clerk of court for processing,” said Mr Moyo.

He said after receiving summons, defendants are normally given time to respond, which is about seven days, to allow one to interact with the council and the courts to negotiate a payment plan.

“In most cases residents ignore these summons, leading to default judgments. When this occurs, a bidding process is initiated and it is done through the messenger of court and not through BCC,” he said. 

“The bidding process depends on the highest bidder and the amount offered. Property may be sold at an insignificant price  and you may end up owing, leading to more property being attached.”

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Bulawayo City Council

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) secretary for administration, Mr Thembelani Dube, urged residents to settle their bills to avoid litigation, as attaching properties could worsen the plight of already poor residents. 

“Council too should also give residents ample time in notifying them of the intention to cut them off. Water is a right and there has to be a mutual understanding between BCC and residents,” said Mr Dube. 

“If people are owing, they should engage BCC and make payment plans to avoid situations where they have their property attached. This should not be an option because some may never recover from that.”

The tough measures against defaulters come as the Government directed the council to improve its revenue collection efficiency by 22 percent during the second quarter of the year.  

The council’s debt ballooned to US$52 million in March as residents, industries and Government departments owed the local authority various amounts. 

Domestic debtors accounted for the highest debt of US$29 million, followed by industrial and commercial debtors, who owed US$14 million, while Government departments owed US$3 million.

The directive to improve revenue collection by Local Government and Public Works Permanent Secretary, Dr John Basera, was part of the conditions of approving BCC’s 2024 budget.

The city’s budget was approved on March 22, with the Government ordering the council to also complete auditing its accounts.

“Revenue collection efficiency should improve from 38 percent to at least 60 percent in the second quarter of 2024,” wrote Dr Basera, who also challenged the council to develop a programme that ensures a continuous engagement with residents.

There has been a 30 percent increase in debtors between February and March, and the council attributes the rise to continuous rebasing of tariffs as the country was still using the local currency. 

The council said it was facing resource constraints in the debt management section.

During the period under review, the city’s creditors increased by four percent from US$13,2 million to US$13,6 million, mainly attributed to procurement of critical infrastructure development components.

Meanwhile, council departments have been challenged to improve service delivery to meet customers’ expectations, which in turn would support the council through timely payment of bills.

Bulawayo mayor, Councillor David Coltart, referred questions to the council’s public relations department, which requested questions in writing. 




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