Leonard Ncube–Victoria Falls Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT has ordered the Victoria Falls City Council to explain why it wants to review downwards its 2021 budget that had already been approved.
The local authority submitted its budget proposal increasing water and service charges by about 400 percent and it was approved.
This attracted a backlash from residents who argued that rates were too high as they have been affected by Covid-19.
Due to pressure from residents, council adopted a resolution to review some tariffs downwards and wrote to the Local Government and Public Works Ministry seeking permission to reduce the budget.
Local Government Minister July Moyo has since asked council to justify why an approved budget should be reviewed, council Chamber Secretary Ms Kholwani Mangena told a full council meeting on Tuesday.
The Minister will also visit Victoria Falls on a date to be advised to address the budget issue which has divided the city.
Residents have said they are getting impatient with the council’s delay in reviewing downwards its 2021 budget amid reports many are failing to pay water bills that skyrocketed to about $9 000 per month.
Ms Mangena said Minister Moyo responded to the council request seeking justification for the need to reduce tariffs on an approved budget.
“A budget is a statutory instrument and we cannot just tamper with it without authority from the Ministry. The Town Clerk wrote to the ministry requesting guidance to start the processes of reducing the budget so that is why the Minister wrote to council in a letter dated April 29, 2021 requesting the local authority to produce a proper write-up showing effects of the budget review. He said he will come down to explain processes. So, we need to justify why we are reducing the tariffs that were approved by the Ministry,” said Ms Mangena.
She said council had since written to Minister Moyo explaining the required details.
Ms Mangena said the reduction of the budget has nothing to do with irregularities in the procedure but was based on “the cry of residents that they could not afford to pay.”
In an interview after the meeting, the city’s public relations and economic development officer Mr Ngqabutho Moyo said council had started engaging residents as per procedure.
“Everyone knows that we are hard hit by Covid-19. Tourism is our backbone and therefore we are largely affected and households cannot afford. Council sat and agreed that from the administrative side we have to activate the systems of reviewing certain tariffs that were causing discomfort among stakeholders, residents and companies,” said Mr Moyo.
“That being the case the local authority is now in the process of activating all its systems to engage residents on a number of tariffs that we feel will lessen the burden and pressure to the household and at the same time enable the local authority to be able to collect a meaningful amount to sustain activities because right now households are not stable to afford to pay.”
He said after gathering input from residents and ratepayers, council will then calculate the impact of reducing the budget and then make proposals.
“This will be not be an overhaul of the entire budget but review of certain areas,” said Mr Moyo.
Victoria Falls Combined Residents Association chairman Mr Kelvin Moyo said residents are not happy with the snail’s pace the process is taking as well as the boardroom fighting within the local authority which is compromising service delivery.
“We are not happy with the speed at which the issues are being put into consideration. We were hoping to get a date when the budget is going to be reviewed but it seems there is still confusion.
“We are all aware of the challenges that befell residents as a result of Covid-19 and as long as councillors, management and the mayor don’t work together we are going to face challenges thereby affecting livelihoods,” he said.
Councillors also showed concern about the delay in the process as they said the review process should go ahead even before the visit by the Minister.