Gweru City Council disconnects defaulting residents

via Gweru City Council disconnects defaulting residents | SW Radio Africa by Nomalanga Moyo November 27, 2013 

The cash-strapped Gweru City Council has resorted to disconnecting the water supply of defaulting residents, in a bid to force them to pay up.

Gweru council authorities say there has been a noticeable rise in the number of defaulters, following ZANU PF’s unilateral decision to force councils across the country to cancel residents’ debts ahead of the July 31st elections.

Gweru Mayor Hamutendi Kombayi told SW Radio Africa that his council was not opposed to the cancellation, but he felt that residents were now withholding payments in the hope of another write-off.

“The council is struggling to service its own obligations including paying staff, ensuring that paid up residents have access to clean water, maintaining the whole city infrastructure, among other things,” Hamutendi said.

He said some residents had not bothered to pay anything in two months, and had created serious cash-flow problems for the council which was affecting service delivery.

In the just-ended financial year, Gweru reported a budget deficit of $8 million, which authorities blame on Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo’s reprieve. Local businesses, which were not covered by Chombo’s directive, reportedly owe $13 million in unpaid rates.

Mayor Hamutendi dismissed fears that disconnecting water supply could force genuinely hard-up residents to turn to unprotected water sources, thus exposing them to waterborne diseases.

“Chances of this happening are very slim. There are boreholes in each ward that were sunk by non-governmental organisations and people can make use of this if they are disconnected,” he added.

Meanwhile in Matebeleland South, Gwanda Town Council was without water for two weeks following a payment wrangle between the municipality and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA).

ZINWA disconnected water to the town on November 7th over a $5 million debt, in defiance of a 2011 High Court order barring such a move.

The local authority sought the interdict after ZINWA threatened to indefinitely disconnect water to the municipality.

As part of the settlement, it was agreed that the municipality would remit 70% of its water revenue collections to ZINWA, and to approach the same court if either party reneged or defaulted.

The municipality honoured this arrangement until Chombo’s directive saw $3 million being wiped from its revenue inflows. This caused the local authority to default, thereby giving ZINWA the excuse to disconnect supplies on the pretext that it was rationing rather than cutting off supplies.

The disconnection affected even key facilities such as the Gwanda Provincial Hospital, which had to use raw water from the local river thereby exposing vulnerable patients to infections and diseases.

Water supplies have since been restored after the authority paid $46,000 obtained through the sale of a stand to ZANU PF Transport Minister Obert Mpofu.

Jaston Mazhale, the MDC-T councillor for Ward 7, told this station that Chombo’s debt directive had seriously eroded council revenue to the point where it was not possible to pay salaries or provide any meaningful service to residents.

Mazhale also revealed that residents already owe the local authority almost half a million dollars, and this is crippling council business.

“Residents have been reluctant to pay since the debt cancellation, maybe in anticipation of another one, we don’t know.

“If government really was concerned about the welfare of citizens, central government should have taken over the debts owed by ratepayers because the cancellations do not make sense for councils that have a duty to deliver services.”

Mazhale said the debt write-off had made the council vulnerable to politicians seeking political mileage to step in and “rescue” struggling authorities from a crisis created by the very same politicians.

He said there was nothing philanthropic about Obert Mpofu’s ‘intervention’ as the minister had gained a commercial stand in the process, without going through the normal processes.

In Harare an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea has killed at least 440 deaths of children under the age of five.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told journalists Tuesday that nearly 48,000 cases and 440 deaths from common diarrhoea have been reported countrywide this year.

“Dysentery has accounted for 40,756 cases and 59 deaths while typhoid cases reported in 2013 were 1,475,” the minister said.

“While most cases are emanating from the rural provinces, the cities and towns have also contributed significant cases with Harare, Chitungwiza and Kadoma reporting outbreaks of typhoid and dysentery in early 2013,” Parirenyatwa added.

Harare has been experiencing serious water shortages for almost 15 years now owing to a number of problems, chief of which has been mismanagement by those tasked with running the authority.

A recent report by international rights body Human Rights Watch: Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital warned that Zimbabwe’s capital was at risk of another cholera outbreak.

In 2008, a year-long cholera outbreak killed 4,000 people, and these were just the reported cases.