Debt cancellation: Chombo torches storm

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?”

Comments (20)

How about reimbursing some of us who have been paying for non existent services we have no access to city water our refuse is not collected and yet each month we receive astronomical bills

Margaret - 25 July 2013

Harare City council was under an MDC COUNCIL madam Kwinje not chombo.They are to blame .Leave chombo alone pliz

charles moyo - 25 July 2013

nyika ino ine mbwende. they create chaos and people clap hands for that. GOD have mrecy on us. may we all need to be wiped out for a new generation to come.. maybe if he had said to half the bills I would understand. how do they give us the service. imagine pipe burst and they say they have no fuel to come. wish you would get sick and need an ambulance and no money to buy it and you die. zivai kuti ivo havabhadhari ende kwavari vane migodi yemvura. makapusa chaizvo. mbwende dzavanhu.

leo choto - 25 July 2013

nyika ino ine mbwende. they create chaos and people clap hands for that. GOD have mrecy on us. may we all need to be wiped out for a new generation to come.. maybe if he had said to half the bills I would understand. how do they give us the service. imagine pipe burst and they say they have no fuel to come. wish you would get sick and need an ambulance and no money to buy it and you die. zivai kuti ivo havabhadhari ende kwavari vane migodi yemvura. makapusa chaizvo. mbwende dzavanhu.

leo choto - 25 July 2013

nyika ino ine mbwende. they create chaos and people clap hands for that. GOD have mrecy on us. may we all need to be wiped out for a new generation to come.. maybe if he had said to half the bills I would understand. how do they give us the service. imagine pipe burst and they say they have no fuel to come. wish you would get sick and need an ambulance and no money to buy it and you die. zivai kuti ivo havabhadhari ende kwavari vane migodi yemvura. makapusa chaizvo. mbwende dzavanhu.

leo choto - 25 July 2013

All the commentators in favour of council are talking nonsense. Look the majority of urburnites were rendered jobless first, noone came out to say how werethey going to survive. Zimdollar was stolen in the banks and majority of people started at zero and to be honest there is absolutely no service delivery by the so called city council. This economic analyses whatever that means is hogwash. In Mabvuku there has been no water for over a decade but the council has the audacity to present water bills. Its evil. In some areas no piped water for days in a week but the bill remains inflated. Infact much of that which is being said to owed to the city council is less than a quarter of the $400 000 000 being talked about basing on service delivery. We need to be practical not to be theoretical in so called economics. Yes council is owed by us residents but not the inflated figures as shown their bills. Are people not buying water from those lorries around surbubs. When reality dawns things settle. Ask zesa when they embarked on metrering exercisize, real charges beacame the order of the day and I recall one top chef there complaining that now they are not coolecting as they used to do during the days of ESTIMATES. Think about it.

rita makarau - 25 July 2013

Politics or no politics this is good. Bvunzai vanhu. Ndizvo zvido zvavanhu izvi.

ZMBOS - 25 July 2013

While I agree kuti Chombo is trying to win votes, council is charging us for services which it is not providing saka avo vari kuchema kuti council inozofambisa sei basa havana nyaya because yagara haisi kutombofambisa basa rayo. Ndekupi kwamakambonzwa kuti Fire Bregade yasvuika on time ikadzimura moto? Ndekupi kwamakaona all the other services that we pay for dzichiitwa nemazvo? Saka chashamisa apa chii? I support MDC but apa Chombo ari right, bills must be scraped away, totangisa patsva, anenge azosarawo ipapo zvaazvake. In any case, it is better to write off the big debts that you know will never be paid, and give residents a clean slate that you make sure is kept clean. That way council can make a slow but sure start to efficient revenue collection. Chombo anomborasika zvake but apa anenge ambogonawo. muroverei mawoko!!!

Dumakwezulu - 25 July 2013

is legal for the (ex)Minister Chombo to make such a decision of national magnitude when cabinet has been dissolved to pave way for elections?? just asking....

madzibaba - 25 July 2013

Very good decision by a Minister with too much power. However, for the equation to be complete, he must also make a statement on the need for all debts owed by all rural and town councils to be forgiven.

kiyoro kiyoro - 25 July 2013

Been on the fence, battling to decide whom to vote for

Change - 25 July 2013

what isw wrong is that byo city council did not consult ratepayers when it decided to raise rates by 400- 1000%. The ratepayers simply stopped paying rates. Consult with ratepayers and agree on the rates. ...... but chombosays that hisruling was for the poor....Iquestion that. Whoowns most of the property- zanupf chefs flush with thousands of properties or the poor with just one each? To me it mells of a zanu man who knows zanu isgoing to lose the elections and who has not paid his rates saving himself mega money in rates as he leaves the office he has used for self gain. It has nothing to do with the poor.

wordwriter - 25 July 2013

what use is $400 million to council when they are failing to collect that money? In business they is provision for bad debts which are eventually written off because they become an expense to the company and only serve to overstate the finances of the company. Councillors have been awarding them huge pecks but now its high time residents also received those pecks what better way than cancelling their debts......bigup Chombo

mduza - 25 July 2013

Inyaya yatsuro, chitende cheuchi nemhuka dzose. Chombo arikupa vagari veHarare, Bulawayo uye mguta ose madiki madonhwe euchi. Vakanakirwa kusvika vakanganwa chazuro vacharasha mavhoti. Zanu-PF haina chisvinu chaichagona kuita kunze kwekumamira mutsime rinocherwa mvura nevanhu. If this was a since corrective measure, where was this minister all along? Does the government have resources to finance this "good" gesture? Ngatisauraye macouncil nenzira iyi. One would have seen the sense if this process focused on 2009-2010. Is this a long term solution to poor service delivery? We do not learn lessons from our painful past. Mwaka uno tichaita matuzvi ekuposherana!

TM - 25 July 2013


Chunga Chengetai - 25 July 2013


MVURA - 25 July 2013

I dont understand those who are not happy abou the scraping of the bills. minister knew this they jus waited for the elections where in Zim can one get $10 000.00 to give city council vele asibhadali citshani izinto zenu likhuphe lomuntu wenu lowo

nansi mhlolo - 25 July 2013

Pane akambowonayo circular yatumirwa na chombo kuma local authorities. Water and sewerage not exempted. Zvabviswa ma very small rates for some levies, they contribute $1-$3.

fake - 26 July 2013

Yeah , another form Dr. We should accept and enjoy it but we should not forget that this is done with the intention of buying votes. It could not be a government policy to bail on accounts , its not feasible. They should work on allevitaing poverty, pro active and not reactive. People should not forget that he is the man who authorised demolition of people houses after authorising them to build them at the first insatnce. People should be clever and know where they are coming for them to know where they are going.

MNK - 26 July 2013

hokoyo mwana wevhu

gureche zita rehondo - 15 September 2013

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