Chitungwiza writes-off 5pc of bills

HARARE - Cash-strapped Chitungwiza Municipality is writing off five percent of the over $50 million owed by residents as an incentive for them to pay up their bills.

The resolution was passed in Kadoma during a capacity building workshop amid a deepening crisis that has seen the local authority failing to pay salaries.

The local authority also resolved to offer residential stands to its restive employees who last week gave them a 14-day notice to strike if they did not get paid.

Reeling under a $50 million plus debt which includes statutory obligations, outstanding Zimra dues, Zimdef and pension funds, the council is locked in a salary dispute with its workers whom they owe 13 months’ wages. The municipality is spending over half of its $1 million revenue on salaries.

An independent arbitrator in the salary dispute last year ordered council to clear all salary arrears by next month. But up to now, the local authority has settled less than half the debt.

The council also owes Harare Municipality over $2 million, which it is paying back in $250 000 per month tranches.

Despite having all outstanding residents’ rates and bills from February 2009 to June 2013 written off after a government directive, Chitungwiza Municipality’s 25 wards owe an average of $2,5 million each, officials say.

Phillip Mutoti, the mayor of Chitungwiza, confirmed the incentive offered to residents saying the resolutions would be adopted at a full council meeting on Friday.

“We are having our full council meeting this Friday where the Kadoma resolutions will be tabled for adoption,” said Mutoti.

Last year’s scrapping of bills by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo was dismissed by critics as an election gimmick, which would backfire on local authorities.

Council officials who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity said the move by council to offer discount on the debt was a short-term measure that would see the local authority pay workers.

The officials said Chitungwiza municipality has since written to government seeking a $10 million grant for salaries, which has not been availed.

“The idea will not work because it has been done before but the debt still accumulated as residents resist paying for services that they are not getting,” said one official.

“Council is even sending water and rates bills separately hoping that residents will pay their rates since they are resisting to pay for water but that has not worked.”

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