AUTHORITIES in Masvingo have raised the red flag after it emerged cumulative debts owed to the cash-strapped local authority by rate payers, among them State institutions, have surged to nearly $21 million in a period of eight months.
The apparent reluctance by residents and institutions to honour their debts has forced the struggling local authority to impose water disconnections on defaulting households, coupled with a resolution to sue State institutions.
Water disconnections are being effected despite the evident threat posed by the recent outbreak of waterborne diseases in the transit city.
Minutes from recent council meeting have revealed the city is owed a staggering $20,9 million by rate payers, a situation that has greatly affected service delivery in the country’s oldest urban settlement.
It has emerged the major debtors include the Zimbabwe National Army, which owes council $5 million, the Zimbabwe Prison Service, which owes $1,5 million, the Zimbabwe Republic Police whose debt is $1,4 million and the ailing Cold Storage Company which owes council $1 million.
The debts have been accruing since June last year — just before the July 31 polls — when government, through the local government ministry, ordered the country’s local authorities to cancel all debts owed by rate payers.
The populist directive, which was viewed as an election gimmick by the Zanu PF wing of the then ruling inclusive government, further crippled service delivery in the country’s struggling local authorities.
Masvingo town clerk, Adolf Gusha said a debt of $21 million for a struggling city was too high, given that the government ordered a debt relief to all debtors barely a year ago.
“The debts are still high despite the bills having been written off by the government up to June 2013,” Gusha said.
He added: “As council, we are now concentrating on water disconnections on all defaulting residents, while institutional debts are being handed over to debt collectors.”
Gusha said his council has since set up a debt collection task force, tasked with the job of recovering debt owed to it by government institutions.
However, Gusha said, the task force could still not recover the monies, something that has prompted the recent resolution to sue the institutions.
“We are failing to improve on service delivery within the city,” he said. “We want to improve the city’s sewerage and water works, but we cannot because people are not paying their debts.”
Meanwhile, the city’s department of health, housing and environmental services has reported an outbreak of waterborne diseases, with 126 cases of diarrhoea and nine cases of dysentery being reported in the month of February.
Fears abound the diseases may spread as city authorities embark on the controversial water disconnections to recover debts.
The disconnections, however, put Masvingo on a collision course with central government which has continuously barred local authorities from disconnecting water from defaulting households.
The government argues any water connections would likely pile pressure on the country’s social services which would be responding to the resultant outbreak of waterborne diseases.
— New Zimbabwe