HARARE – In one of the biggest campaign compromise, Ignatius Chombo, the Zimbabwean Local Government minister, has written off all outstanding water bills nationwide in a move widely viewed as a vote-buying gimmick by Zanu PF.
The Daily News sought comments from social and political commentators on the latest directive by Chombo.
Okay Machisa, ZimRights director says Chombo’s decision does not make sense at all.
“This is the most unreasonable decision from Chombo this year. This is cheap, poor and foolish politics.”
Machisa said the councils have to drag Chombo to court.
“They also need to pay salaries; they need to pay telephones and electricity bills. If such a decision is upheld how do they make listed payments?
“So I see a quick reaction to this done in a legal manner where the councils have to contest this unreasonable and badly economic advised decision in court.”
Media practitioner Rashweat Mukundu believes it is the usual Zanu PF populist policies that take service delivery back and cause more chaos.
“Cities and towns are not villages where you draw water from the communal well, but water is literally manufactured using money to flow in pipes. This kind of populism will not win Zanu PF voters but people are discerning and do not take this nonsense seriously. It’s laughable.”
Mukundu added that “without doubt the policy is unsustainable.”
Playwright Styx Mhlanga says some bills that were issued to residents just immediately after dollarisation were not real.
“A lot of people underrate the US dollar. I think there is some sense in what minister Chombo is doing!”
Asked if this was not done to win votes ahead of crucial elections, Mhlanga said: “Yes the timing is wrong but the action is just.”
Raisedon Baya, a playwright believes it is not a question of knowing one is leaving and wanting to create chaos.
“That is like writing off millions of dollars. This is just politicking. What’s the rationale?”
Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director said the directive does make sense if you view it from the perspective of residents.
“However, it creates serious financial challenges for the local authorities who might not have the capacity to cover the created income gap.”
Shumba said the period covered, should be February 2009 to December 31, 2010.
“As the HRT we believe the directive has come at a time when the nation is faced with an election.
“However, it does not take away the good principle of debt cancellation, which the last council refused to discuss, yet was a key demand of the residents in Harare.
“What needs to be done is that the incoming council, to be installed after the July 31 poll, should seriously attend to this matter of debt management as a policy matter than to try to be fighting the minister, who is legally empowered to act in the way he has done,” said Shumba.
He said the timing of the announcement is obviously politically suspect, though residents, who are seeking relief from economic and social hardships, will welcome the move.
“Unfortunately for the councillors, they will have to lobby Parliament to reform the Urban Councils’ Act, which was amended with the active participation of the three parties in the inclusive government.
“The law is the major problem and it must be tackled without partisan considerations. Councillors and MPs should view the challenges presented by several provisions of the Act (Chapter 29.15) and the rural district councils Act (chapter 29.13) from a developmental perspective, and then, only then, will they be able to address the many challenges being experienced by local authorities — among them the participation of citizens in decision-making, particularly budget formulation and implementation.”
Shumba said Chombo is taking advantage of legislative provisions that were enacted with the full participation of all parties in Parliament.
“Residents have been struggling to settle their outstanding bills, and on the books of accounts of the City, these debts remained there for a long time, therefore are already bad debts, with very little chances of recovering them from the debtors.”
Political activist Tabani Moyo said “the senses during an election period easily jumps through the window as parties make last minute bids to ‘buy’ votes.
“As for Chombo’s move it’s a veil attempt at ‘purchasing’ urban votes which are generally not favourable to his party. The move does not have any economic calculation but is made purely on political grounds.
“However, and unfortunately for Chombo and his party, it’s coming at a time when the electorate has made up its mind and is brazenly clear that its vote buying so it will not reap the intended result,” said Moyo.
Grace Kwinjeh, an MDC official said the move is not sustainable and will cripple the local authorities even further. It is an irresponsible and rushed decision.
“The local authorities have over the years under Chombo’s leadership suffered the greatest onslaught ever, to do with rabid corruption, mal-administration, you name it.
“Harare once known as the shining city has lost its glitter, under Chombo, refuse collection is at its worst, not to mention water treatment and supply.”
She said Chombo cannot redeem himself in a week before elections for all his leadership failures as Local Government minister — in any case Zimbabweans have a long memory and will not be bought just outside the voting booth.
“They know what they want and how the city affairs should be run.”
A social commentator who refused to be named said there are certain issues to consider, especially the timing and the legalities around such a move.
“These are sunset policies because there is no guarantee that some of these characters will still be in the picture in August. One has to also consider the directive’s implications on council revenue — you realise the figures are so high,” he said.
The social commentator said on the other hand, this will bring a huge relief to residents most of whom were struggling to clear their outstanding bills.
“In reality this will attract votes.”
Journalist Mabasa Sasa thinks Chombo might just have been politicking.
“It wins votes, sure. On economics, I guess that would depend on what plan the Local Government ministry has to off-set the debt cancellation.
“Any debt cancellation has to be structured and conditional. So I suppose that is what the minister should be asked — how are they structuring it?”
Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe, CCDZ director Phillip Pasirayi believes this is a vote-buying gimmick which does not make any economic sense.
“It is intended to boost the electoral chances of Zanu-PF candidates particularly in urban areas,” said Pasirayi.
He said Chombo’s directive is set to worsen the already precarious situation in terms of service delivery in most local authorities.
“How will the councils function if they are directed to write off all the debts? Where does Chombo expect these councils to get money to pay their own bills and provide better services to the residents?”
Pasirayi said this is the kind of meddling that does not augur well for the smooth functioning of local authorities.
“There is urgent need to operationalise those provisions of the new Constitution which curtail the ‘imperial’ powers vested in the minister of Local Government.”
He added that it is sad Parliament failed to repeal the draconian provisions of both the Rural and Urban Councils Acts which are the basis of Chombo’s directive.
Pan African activist Thomas Deve said it is an election gimmick but with a lot of morale sense.
Citizens cannot be levied for services they did not consume.
“The duty bearer failed to meet their obligations and the electorate will have to address this matter when making choices on who should represent them.”
Theatre producer Daves Guzha said this is exactly why Zanu PF economic policies have drawn us into chaos with huge unemployment.
“Same policy brought us cholera. How are we expected to receive a service...a bad one but which we all agree was on the mend and not pay for it?
“Has Christmas suddenly come in early? Is this not a major government decision and if it is, why is our media not questioning how this major policy shift was done when Cabinet meetings were suspended two weeks ago or so?
“Scorched earth policy again! Nyaya yekuwana zvemahara ndiyo yatiuraya munyika ino. What will happen when there is nothing more to take? Todyanana sevanhu?”