The Bulawayo City Council (BCC) should not blame residents for its failure to pay its Zimbabwe Electricity Authority (Zesa) bill resulting in the city being switched off by the power authority.
Bulawayo deputy mayor Amen Mpofu told NewsDay when council buildings were disconnected last week that “residents have placed us in this position by defaulting on their bills”.
“We will now have to enforce measures to ensure that the residents pay their bills,” Mpofu threatened.
Local leaders and activists, including the residents’ associations who spoke to NewsDay, said for the local authority to blame residents for its predicament smacked of double standards and hypocrisy.
The Bulawayo Residents’ Association leader, Winos Dube, said residents had been targeted because they were seen as a soft target.
“There are many other institutions that owe council, some of them profit-making entities, but the local authority is targeting residents because they are seen as a soft target.
“They (BCC) should be honest enough to call on everyone who owes them, government included, to settle their debts. A lot of residents are unemployed and have no source of income. Otherwise the residents are doing their best.
“Everytime one visits the revenue hall, residents will be queuing patiently to drop whatever little they have. The BCC should have a set of priorities on what they do with that money instead of giving their employees loans to buy cars, for example,” he said.
Patriotic Union of Matabeleland president Bancinyane Ndiweni said the deputy mayor’s “shock” response summarised the leadership crisis within council.
“I am disappointed and I should say it is worrying that the BCC has had to be switched off by Zesa. The local authority’s blame of residents is also shocking, it shows double standards. Mpofu seems to be silent on the government and companies’ debts,” he said.
According to the latest council minutes, domestic debtors owe the local authority $45 489 369, 86 while industrial and commercial debtors owe $17 416 202, 41 and the government $8 321 178, 51.
The MDC Bulawayo provincial spokesperson Edwin Ndlovu said by attacking residents, the BCC had shown how clueless it was.
“The threat is coming from people who are clueless and don’t know what they are doing. They are owed money by the government and are failing to recover it even when the Minister of Water is their party cadre.
“They then choose to vent their frustration on residents who are lowly-paid, law-abiding citizens,” he said.
Zimbabwe African People’s Union spokesperson Methuseli Moyo said it seemed the BCC was intent in turning residents “into a thin cow they would milk until it dies”.
The mayor, Thaba Moyo, said the singling out of residents was just a slip-up but the comments were aimed at all ratepayers.
“He was just trying to illustrate to, perhaps, someone afar who may be wondering why we are unable to pay Zesa. It was just an example. The total revenue collection is just 30% and the total debt is now $80 million. If we are to recover that kind of money, we would be able to pay Zesa.
“It’s not really about residents but about all ratepayers. We all know why people are unable to pay. We are living in tough and abnormal times. That is the reason why we have not been taking tough measures,” he said.