Tuesday, August 13, 2013

(NEWZIMBABWE) Mujuru backs Chombo on debt relief
25/07/2013 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

VICE President Joice Mujuru insists a directive by Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo to the country’s 92 rural and urban councils to write off billions of dollars in debts owed by residents is not an election gimmick.

In a surprise directive last week, Chombo directed councils to write off US$2 billion in debt accrued between February 2009 and June 30, 2013.

The Harare City Council is owed US$350 million by residents in unpaid taxes, levies, water, sewer, refuse and rental bills while Bulawayo City Council says residents have defaulted on US$42 million.

The timing of the directive, ahead of general elections on Wednesday next week, has fuelled scepticism among residents’ association while being met with anger by Zanu PF’s rivals who say it is a ruse to buy votes.

But Mujuru, speaking in Bindura on Wednesday, insisted that the directive was legal and Zanu PF – if re-elected into power – would see to it that local authorities comply.
“The fact that the directive coincided with the elections does not mean that it’s a political gimmick,” Mujuru said.

“This is what some people said when we said we would take land. They said it was a political gimmick and they were left behind, today they are begging us wanting that same land.”

She said Chombo “took the law into consideration” before announcing the debt relief, adding: “This is a move meant to assist our residents to come out of this mud.”

Zanu PF ministers say the policy decision was influenced by the February 2009 abandonment of the local currency in favour of the United States dollar. Many families were unable to get access to the foreign currency and debts piled up.

Speaking on Wednesday at a Zanu PF rally in Mabvuku-Tafara, Chombo said: “There’s a law that permits us to write off debts. We’ve since instructed councils to do so.

“In terms of Section 133 of the Rural District Councils Act Chapter 29:13 as read with Section 303 of the Urban Councils Act Chapter 29:15, 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.

“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 debt relief has become Zanu PF’s main campaign platform in the final sprint towards elections. It was a theme which President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, picked up at a rally in Norton.

“We can’t be proud of using foreign currency. People failed to settle bills as the money is hard to get. All debts should be written off because people don’t have the money to settle the bills,” she said.

Chombo said the directive was irreversible and now effective, and residents should see the debt cancellation in their bills soon.

The minister said power utility ZESA Holdings and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINARA) should also follow suit and cancel debts, but no directive had been issued on the two state enterprises.

The Harare Residents Trust said it “receives with caution” Chombo’s directive while adding that “the timing of the action remains suspicious”.

It, however, said debt cancellation was what most Harare residents wanted especially for the period February 2009 to December 31, 2010, “when the City of Harare evidently did not provide essential refuse and water services to the majority.”

Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda has called Chombo’s directive “illegal” and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party has accused Zanu PF of raising voters’ hopes through a rushed policy which could collapse local authorities.

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