Tuesday, August 13, 2013

(NEWZIMBABWE) Chombo orders debts write-off ahead of polls
22/07/2013 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

LOCAL government minister Ignatius Chombo said Monday ordered local authorities to write-off residents' outstanding utility debts, a week after the finance minister claimed that the treasury has "no money" to hold crucial elections set on July 31.

Chombo told a press conference in Harare that circulars had since been dispatched to the country's 92 local authorities ordering them to cancel debts owed by residents from February 2009 to the end of June 2013.

“Councils are directed to write off debts in respect of rentals, unit tax, development levy, refuse charges and water and sewer fees as at 30 June, 2013,” he said.

“Similarly, amounts owed by residents in respect of rates since February 2009 stand prescribed in terms of Section 15 of the Prescription Act Chapter 8:11.”

The fees to be exempted include housing rentals, unit tax, development levy, refuse charges, water and sewer fees. Power supply authorities were urged to take similar moves.

Harare Residents Trust director, Precious Shumba, welcomed the directive and urged Chombo to put it in writing so that incoming councils do not reverse the order.

He said: “While residents across Harare would welcome such a move to cancel all debt, it is important to acknowledge that the HRT mobilised residents to sign a petition on 19 October 2012 demanding the cancellation of all debt accrued from February 2009 to 31 December 2010, a period we strongly believe was most difficult, economically and socially for residents, and no tangible services were rendered in the cited period.

“The action taken by Minister Chombo is commendable.”

The exemption period coincides with the administration of the coalition government formed after disputes arose between veteran president Robert Mugabe and then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after the 2008 presidential elections.

The two rivals are set to battle for the country's top post in the elections only ten days away.
Chombo said the debt exemption is consistent with the pro-poor policies of Mugabe's Zanu PF party.

He said although residents must pay their bills for the sustenance of effective and efficient service delivery, "economic sanctions had made it difficult for the generality of the citizenry to meet their obligations."

However, critics question the government's move, saying the policy will be seen as a punishment to those who pay utility bills on time and is likely to encourage people to delay paying their bills.

In April, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority once threatened to disconnect default consumers as unpaid bills had reached US$774 million and caused serious cash-flow problems for the power utility agency.

Zimbabwe imported electricity from neighbouring Mozambique. But last year, Maputo decided to suspend power supply to Zimbabwe over unsettled debts amounting to US$76 million.

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