Vusumuzi Dube, Online News Editor
THE Government has said it is not aware of recent moves by the Bulawayo City Council to index water and rates bills to residents in foreign currency, a move that has also been met with public outcry.
Last week the local authority announced that bills will this month be indexed in foreign currency as they argued that the current charges have been rendered inadequate by the prevailing economic conditions. The local authority said residents had the option of paying in foreign currency or local currency using the prevailing auction rate at the time of billing.
However, Government has since distanced itself from the move, while it has also emerged that council management allegedly made the initial directive without informing councillors and had to rush to call for a special council meeting after councillors had raised a red flag.
In an interview with Sunday News yesterday, Local Government and Public Works Minister, Cde July Moyo said he was not aware of the latest move by BCC.
“I am not aware of that, I will have to check to find out what is happening, so we can then advise accordingly,” said Minister Moyo.
Contacted for comment, Bulawayo Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni said as far as they were concerned the Government had been fully briefed as they had approved the local authority’s budget that had been indexed in foreign currency.
He said residents had to realise that if BCC continued billing in local currency, which has been hit by inflation, it was going to adversely affect service delivery as a huge chunk of the revenue realised would go towards salaries.
“Actually this is something which we should have been doing since February. It is nothing new really because the Ministry also knows that our 2022 budget was indexed in foreign currency. This is the existing economic environment.
“What we are saying is that residents will still be able to pay in local currency but that will be according to the auction rate at the time of billing. All we want is to ensure that we are able to deliver services to our residents instead of directing the majority of our revenue towards paying salaries,” said Clr Mguni.
However, councillors have accused managers of bypassing them in coming up with the directive, noting that council management only called for a special council meeting after the Town Clerk, Mr Christopher Dube, had already issued out a public notice on the issue.
“We were shocked when residents started asking us on the implications of the public notice, management clearly bypassed councillors on this issue, even the Finance and Development committee was not aware of the matter.
“They only called for a special council meeting after the public notice had been issued but it was just merely to rubber stamp the decision by management, there is nothing much we could do. So in this case management made the policy and not councillors, yet it is supposed to be the other way round,” said a councillor who preferred anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association has blasted the council over the issue.
In a letter addressed to the town clerk, the association noted that council should be seized with spreading opportunities that invest more towards increasing income levels to help residents make ends meet.
“The reality on the ground is that a lot of residents are actually falling behind in paying council bills and rentals in local currency and there is no way that charging in USD will turn this reality around.
“A return to USD payment will actually worsen the plight of residents who live on out-of-pocket transactions. While we understand the challenges BCC is faced with in providing service delivery, our key question remains ‘whose reality really counts?’
“Is it that of BCC or that of ordinary rate payers, the majority of whom are living in poor conditions and abject poverty?” reads part of the letter.
The residents further declined a proposed meeting with council officials, which council management had slated for tomorrow, unless the local authority produces evidence in the form of full council minutes to indicate that due procedure was followed and a full council resolution was passed to effect the re-alignment of tariff charges.