THE Bulawayo City Council has warned ratepayers with accounts overdue for more than three months to settle them immediately or risk losing their properties to debt collectors.
Council senior public relations officer Nesisa Mpofu said attaching and selling people’s properties is the only option to recover money, but was quick to emphasise that this only applies to residents in three-month arrears.
“The attachment of property is the legally correct way to recover debts,” she said.
“It is used as a last resort after all attempts have failed to get the person to honor his or her obligations.”
Mpofu said bills warned ratepayers that if they default payment for more than two months then council could resort to legal action.
“The council bill states that if an account is overdue by 60 days or more, legal action may be taken without further notice,” she said.
“Council, therefore, targets amounts that are overdue. Residential properties owing $200 and above are handed over for the legal process.”
Council has engaged debt collectors to attach and auction properties belonging to defaulting ratepayers to recover nearly $90 million it is owed by residents and government departments, a move condemned by the Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association (Bpra).
Some of the properties were auctioned on Friday.
The local authority has since rolled out a water disconnection exercise to ratepayers who owe it varying sums of money.
Bpra described the move as not only disheartening, but ludicrous and urged residents to mobilise and “to stop this madness”.
Emmanuel Ndlovu, the Bpra programmes manager, said although they encouraged residents to settle their bills, grabbing properties was inhuman.
“As a movement of concerned citizens, we demand that this stops and that council must learn to consult and to deal with problems in a manner that does not jeopardise relations between State and society,” he said.
“We urge all councillors to stand up now and speak against this inhuman, ludicrous move before residents take it upon themselves to stop this madness currently on display at City Hall.”
Ndlovu said what was further saddening was that council was using estimated meter readings to calculate how much residents owed, an allegation dismissed as false by the council spokesperson.
“Bills can only be investigated and rectified on an individual basis and those that come forward are assisted accordingly,” Mpofu noted. “Like we have previously stated, it is important that the Bpra not generalise issues for all accounts, as they have different peculiarities and cases.”
In Victoria Falls, residents owing the local authority will now do community service, slashing grass and other chores.