Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, has come under heavy criticism for advising residents not to pay for services they do not receive.
In the heat of electioneering, Chiwenga told Zanu-PF supporters in Hatcliffe recently that local authorities should stop the collection of rates from areas they were not adequately servicing in terms of refuse collection, water supply, and the provision of sewer reticulation.
“There is no water, council has failed to collect refuse and there is no sewer reticulation, but daily, they come knocking on your doors demanding payment for things they have failed to deliver. That must stop forthwith,” Chiwenga said.
The former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander who led the military intervention that toppled former president Robert Mugabe in November last year said the Harare City Council should only start collecting rates after it has improved its service delivery.
But local authorities and residents associations have roundly condemned his utterances, saying such political rhetoric was reckless and tantamount to interference in local governance.
In a statement, the Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (Hamref) said residents should ignore Chiwenga and continue to pay their bills.
Hamref said Chiwenga’s populist and cheap politicking was not only unwarranted but a desperate move to score political points at the expense of the delivery of quality service in Harare.
“While these unfortunate sentiments might be received as good news in some quarters, it is the same style of undue political interference into the affairs of local authorities that in July 2013 – just before the then harmonised elections – resulted in the scrapping of debts by the same government,” said Hamref.
“This negatively affected local authorities as most of them failed to recover from the negative effects of the ill-advised scrapping of debts for owing residents”.
Hamref said the ill-informed debt relief of 2013 collapsed the quality of service delivery in most urban local authorities, which is now being blamed on the same local authorities.
“Assuming the same rhetoric was to be used at a national scale, no citizen would pay taxes to government because it has also failed to deliver,” Hamref said.
Section 276 (1) of the Constitution gives local authorities the right to govern, on their own initiative, the local affairs of the people within the areas for which they have been established, and have all the powers necessary for them to do so.
Harare mayor and vice president of the Zimbabwe Local Government Association (Zilga), Bernard Manyenyeni, told the Daily News yesterday that it was everyone’s duty to contribute towards service delivery.
“Councils have not been spared by the vagaries of a failed economy. Everyone should at the end of the day contribute towards service delivery. To get water people have to pay for it. Unless there are subsidies to service provision, residents have to pay,” he said, adding that any attempts to cripple key layers of government border on treason.
Urban and rural councils are still struggling to recover from the 2013 debt write-off which saw government scrapping more than $1 billion rates and water bills owed by residents.
In an effort to avoid a similar disaster, Zilga has declared that there would be no debt write-off this time around.
Local Government minister July Moyo has weighed in in support of Zilga arguing that councils needed to be capacitated and not destroyed by such write-offs.