Friday, April 06, 2007

Govt approves council budgets

Govt approves council budgets
By Bivan Saluseki
Friday April 06, 2007 [04:00]

GOVERNMENT has approved budgets for all councils. Presenting a ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday, local government and housing minister Sylvia Masebo said the 2007 council budgets had been approved with amendments in order to bring them in line with the central government’s policy and priorities and the citizen’s aspirations as articulated in the vision 2030 and Fifth National Development Plan.

She directed councils to ensure that their activities, programmes and projects were in line with the approved 2007 council annual budgets. She said in approving the 2007 council budgets, her ministry considered guidelines issued to councils to spend at least 40 per cent of their total budget on municipal services and 60 per cent on personal emoluments and recurrent administrative costs which was an improvement from a minimum of 30 per cent the previous years.
She said for instance, Lusaka City Council had 49 per cent of its total budget going to salaries and wages and the balance of 51 per cent was shared between meeting recurrent and operational costs and service provision which was at 36 per cent.

“The situation Mr Speaker is of great concern to government because councils were established to provide services and not only to employ and pay staff as is the case in some councils,” she said.
Masebo said the Ministry of Finance had been engaged to deal with old council debts in order to find ways of completely clearing off debt especially that owed to statutory bodies like Local Authority Superannuation Fund which was owed K11 billion at 31st December, 2006.

She said it was important that councils dealt with projects that were budgeted for otherwise their budgets would be unrealistic and projects would not start due to lack of funds.

“It must be noted that all fees and charges that have been imposed by the councils in formulating their 2007 budgets which have been approved by government shall remain in force for the whole 2007 period,” she said.

Masebo said it was gratifying that whilst councils had in their 2007 estimates provided for K60 million for CDF, the House had increased the allocation to K200 million and government had sent revised Constituency Development Fund (CDF) guidelines which had given councils more powers to manage funds and ensure accountability.
She said councils had been directed that preference of projects to be financed by CDF should mainly go towards the education, health and agricultural sectors.

Masebo said councils owed various institutions K55 billion.
“In terms of retirees and retrenchees, a total of K127 billion is owed,” she said.

Masebo said her ministry had instructed councils to ensure that sufficient allocations were made towards reducing local debt. She said government had provided K102.7 billion to help councils deal with their recurrent obligations and financing capital projects.

Masebo hoped the public would see some improvements in councils’ service delivery in 2007 with the year being that of action. She said the council was owed huge sums of money especially in the form of rates and in some cases it had become expensive for councils to collect the debts, some which are old.

“In the spirit of encouraging property rate payers to be current, government has directed councils to give a 50 per cent minimum rebate on all outstanding property rates as of 31st December, 2006 and in order to reward those responsible rate payers who have in the past paid their rates in full and on time. These should be rewarded a five per cent discount on their total annual rates bill for this year 2007,” she said.

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