HomeLocal NewsMunicipality offer divides Chitungwiza residents

Municipality offer divides Chitungwiza residents

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Lucia Marenje (54) of Unit L, in Seke, is a happy woman. She had been burdened with a water bill that was now hovering around $850 and had no idea how she was going to settle her ballooning debt. It had become like a thorn stuck between a child’s toes.

A widowed vendor looking after three children — all still in school — her monthly earnings could not have stretched far enough to be able to clear the debilitating arrears.

Then the Chitungiwa municipality extended an offer to all its indebted residents to clear 50% of all their outstanding debt and have 50% of the remainder written off.

The special arrangement, extended to property occupiers in rents and rates arrears, has been described by town clerk Godfrey Tanyanyiwa as “virtually an early Christmas treat for all those concerned”.

In the notice, Tanyanyiwa said the municipality was inviting defaulters to take up the offer which, however, was exclusive of water consumption charges.

“Chitungwiza municipality is inviting all those in the commercial and residential sector, within Chitungwiza, who are in default with payment of rents and rates arrears to the Chitungwiza municipality, calculated as at the cut-off date of Friday, 30 September 2011, to pay half (50%) of the whole outstanding amount by Wednesday, 30 November 2011 and have 50% of the outstanding amount written off,” reads the notice issued by Tanyanyiwa.

Marenje said she welcomed the turn of events: “I think this is a fair decision because, to be honest with you, I don’t think I was even ever going to be able to settle the debt.”

Marenje said soon after the country introduced the multiple currency regimes in 2009, she — just like other residents — was only paying $30 following a government directive to that effect.

“But council kept on issuing bills around $50, which meant the balance was considered as debt to the council. That was how the debt eventually ballooned to around $800,” she said.

Another indebted resident, Albert Makore of St Mary’s, concurred that given suspicion surrounding how the colossal bills were calculated in the first place, it was about time the municipality put right its wrongs.

“I think under the circumstances, it’s a fair deal, because I don’t believe figures in our bills reflected the correct amounts of money we owed council,” he said.

“At least I am happy council seems to have appreciated we could never have been able to clear the debts because they were just too high, especially in view of the low salaries most people are earning.”

While most people who spoke to NewsDay appreciated the offer, they urged Zesa to also take a leaf from council.

Noreen Mutimurefu of Zengeza 2, a security guard at a supermarket in the dormitory town located 30km from Harare, said she was sitting on an electricity bill she had no way of settling.

“The electricity bill currently amounts to about $850 — as if I run an industry at my house! The salary I earn as a security guard is so little that even arranging a payment plan with Zesa seems hopeless,” she said.

Parliamentarians recently asked they be exempted from paying electricity bills because they could not afford the tariffs.

Zesa Holdings chief executive officer, Josh Chifamba shot down the proposal.

“Tariffs should be cost reflective. When we make exemptions, there has to be transparency, otherwise poor people in high-density suburbs might end subsiding the rich in Borrowdale,” he said.

Chitungwiza Municipality owes Harare millions of dollars in unpaid water bills and is in desperate need of cash to settles bills and normalise relations with their supplier of water.

The municipality is also under fire from residents who have accused it of swindling them of their money through charging exorbitant water bills despite receiving erratic water supplies.

Other residents who, however, have managed to settle their bills have accused the municipality for being unfair to them.

Lester Mukombachoto of Zengeza 4, said the municipality appeared as if it was applying different rules to different rate payers. He said he struggled over the last year to settle a bill of $700.

The municipality never presented such an offer.
“It’s like I am criminalised for settling the bill. Why should those who worked hard in difficult circumstances to settle their bills be treated like this? Does it mean they are going to refund us part of the money we paid?”

The offer, said another resident, Heather Mazorodze of Zengeza 3, was like “a curse and a blessing”at the same time.

She said after making monumental sacrifices to settle a $500 bill against all odds, she was now being mocked by the local authority as it was applying double standards.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” she said. “I feel mocked, for all the efforts I made to settle my bill I am now made to look like a culprit.”

At a meeting organised by the Chitungwiza Residents and Ratepayers’ Association on September 24, residents raised concern over erratic waste collection, high electricity and water charges, poor water supplies and lack of public ablution facilities.

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