By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
28 February 2014
Gweru City Council, which is owed more than $7m in rates and unpaid water bills, has embarked on an extensive water disconnection exercise across the city, sparking an outcry from the residents.
Reports this week said assistant Town Clerk Tapiwa Marerwa confirmed the move which he said was meant to force the residents to clear their debts. According to a Monday Chronicle report Marerwa also confirmed the amount owed and added that the council had been ‘patient enough’ with the defaulting residents.
Marerwa was quoted saying there was ‘now a trend among residents’ of not paying their charges, since the government directive to write off their bills last year.
However Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Association Chairperson, Cornelia Selipiwe, said people were not paying their charges because of ‘genuine poverty.’ Selipiwe told SW Radio Africa that Gweru’s industrial base has ‘totally collapsed’ over the years rendering thousands of people jobless and therefore unable to finance their living costs. He added: ‘The situation is so bad it is beyond your imagination. Nobody is deliberately defaulting on their payments. People are genuinely poor and the councillors know it.’
Selipiwe said his organization has called for an ‘ideas meeting’ with the local authority and business community to map the way forward. Selipiwe said they have also written a letter to the council proposing a ‘new, creative and sympathetic way of collecting revenue.’
According to the report Marerwa further said those who had their water supplies disconnected will have to pay a reconnection fee of $23 while those who illegally turn their taps on will be ‘fined heavily.’ However residents said the ‘harsh move’ stood to exacerbate the situation because many were now using water from unprotected sources where they could contract waterborne diseases.
The Gweru council is not the first to bear the consequences of the government’s directive to write off the residents’ debts. SW Radio Africa reported last year how residents in Gwanda had resorted to not paying their bills, in what the council said was an effect of the government order. Around the same time the Bulawayo City Council also said the arbitrary order had carved a hole in its coffers leaving the local authority struggling to finance its core activities.
According to the report Marerwa said the Gweru council is experiencing similar problems.