The Government has given councils the green light to take drastic measures to recover debt even from its departments which owe local authorities various amounts of money.
Councils, through the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (Ucaz) and the Zimbabwe Local Government Association (Zilga), have in the past years tried to engage the Government in a bid to recover nearly $1 billion owed by various Government departments.
However, these efforts have previously hit a brick wall with both the councils and the Government failing to reach common ground.
Councils have at one time attempted to cut off water supplies from some Government institutions. In an interview with Sunday News, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Cde July Moyo said councils were aware of all measures they could take to recover what was owed to them and he saw nothing wrong in councils implementing these strategies even on Government departments.
“The Government like every debtor has to be looked at by the council and they know what to do. Both in the Urban Councils Act and Rural District Councils Act, how to make a person pay is elaborated and the councils know it. They can garnish, they can do all kinds of things and if Government was garnished by local authorities because it is their right, I can’t say no as long as it is to recover what councils are owed,” said Cde Moyo.
According to Section 279 and 281 of the Urban Councils Act which deals primarily with those liable to pay rates gives local authorities the powers to take any legal action against defaulters.
“No legal proceedings for the recovery of rates shall be instituted against any person unless they have failed within 14 days to comply with the demand served on him in terms of that sub-section requiring him to pay the amount stated therein; or failed within 30 days to comply with the demand served on him in terms of that subsection requiring him to pay the amount stated therein, subject to the maximum amount provided for in that subsection,” reads part of the Act.
Last year it was reported that major local authorities are owed over $1 billion in unpaid bills by residents, Government, industry and commerce, a situation partly to blame for poor service delivery by most councils.
According to the latest Bulawayo City Council report, the local authority is owed a total of $176 267 667 with Government debtors owing; $2 124 682, Parastatals and self-financing Ministries; $3 251 041, industrial and commercial debtors; $67 727 527 and residents owe; $103 164 417.
Of the Government debtors, the Home Affairs Ministry owes the most at $1 103 963 followed by Ministry of Health and Child Care; $332 699, Ministry of Higher Education and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development owes; $228 606, the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing which owes; $ 220 299, , Defence Ministry; $152 209, Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs; $30 162, Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare; $20 685, Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development; $20 685, and the Judiciary Services Commissions owes the lowest figure of $15 515.
Early last week, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe gave local authorities the right to disconnect water supplies to defaulting consumers in order to safeguard the rights of paying consumers, bearing in mind that there are treatment and subsequent pumping costs that are unavoidable.
The Court ruled that water disconnections by local authorities do not in any way contravene Section 77 of the country’s Constitution which guarantees the right to safe, clean and potable water.
Meanwhile, Minister Moyo has ruled out any possibility of debts write off saying residents should adopt a culture of paying for whatever services they consumed. He said residents have to have a sense of ownership of the towns and cities they stayed in and appreciate that they have to pay for the services they consumed.
“In this new dispensation there has never been a pronouncement of debt cancellations, we are urging our citizens that these are your towns and cities, and any area can only be made good by tax payers doing what they ought to be doing and we are urging that everybody has to play their part.
We as Zimbabweans must have a culture of paying for what we consume, whether we are consuming it physically or we are consuming it because we are owning it.”
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