Vusumuzi Dube, Sunday News Reporter
BULAWAYO City Council (BCC) has refused to budge in their recent spate of attaching and auctioning residents’ property, further insisting that they did not recognise a High Court ruling that illegalized disconnection of water supplies.
The local authority has, over the past couple of months embarked on a whirlwind, attaching residents’ property to recover what is owed to them amid revelations that they have so far confiscated property that runs into millions of dollars, which they store at their stores office along Khami Road, with some being put under the care of the messenger of court.
The local authority is reportedly owed $91 million, which they have vowed to recover through the attachment of the resident’s property if necessary.
Responding to written questions from Sunday News the local authority’s senior public relations officer, Mrs Nesisa Mpofu refused to reveal the value of the property they had since attached since January but said they would continue doing so as this was the only legal route they could take.
She further confirmed that they would be continuing with the disconnection of water supplies despite the High Court order by Justice Chinembiri Bhunu ruling that the disconnection of water supplies was unconstitutional.
“The attachment of property is the legally correct way to recover debts; it is used as a last resort after all attempts have failed to get the person to honor his/her obligations. To get to attachment, council will have invited the debtor to the office to discuss the debt, sent a reminder on the bill to pay by due date, issued final demand giving the debtor time to respond, send an SMS message informing the debtor of his obligations, sending an SMS advising debtor that council is proceeding with disconnecting supplies in the debtor’s area, disconnection of water supplies, issuing of summons right to through to attachment of property.
“In all the above avenues the debtor has the opportunity to pay or negotiate a payment plan with Council, if the above channels fail, property is sold following a Court Order,” said Mrs Mpofu.
On the value of the property they had since collected she said; “The figure is currently being calculated and we will advise when it is available.”
When a Sunday News crew tried to access the council’s stores depot last Thursday they were barred from entering by security details who claimed they had to get clearance from council officials first.
She further revealed that collection rate on outstanding debts stood at 5 percent whereas collection rate on the monthly billing ranges between 65 percent and 98 percent.
When questioned on the reasons the local authority was disconnecting water supplies despite the High Court ruling, the senior public relations requested more time to consult and continuous efforts to contact her thereafter were fruitless.
In his landmark ruling, Justice Bhunu described Section eight of the Water By-law Statutory Instrument 164 of 1913, which empowers local authorities to arbitrarily cut water supplies, as unconstitutional. This was after a lawyer Mr Farai Mushoriwa had contested disconnection of water to his Harare home.
Before it was struck down, the section in question read: “Council may, by giving 24 hours’ notice in writing and without prejudicing its right to obtain payment for water supply to its consumer, disconnect supplies to the consumer: (a) If he shall have failed to pay any sum, which in the opinion of the council, is due under these conditions or the water by-laws.”
Bulawayo United Residents Association (BURA) chairperson, Mr Winos Dube said the council’s attitude was shocking as this would see poor residents failing to access water, which was a basic human right.
“In the first place disconnection of water supplies was declared illegal by a Zimbabwean court so you get to wonder, whether this council is not from Zimbabwe, even this issue of attaching residents’ property is unfair because one might be owing just $300 and you find them attaching property that costs thousands of dollars.
“As much as we appreciate that as residents we have to settle our dues, council should not implore these dirty and unfair tactics,” said Mr Dube.
A couple of weeks ago a Pumula south family launched a tirade directed at the local authority accusing them of causing their late mother’s death after she collapsed and later died after receiving a notice of intention to attach her property from the city council over unpaid bills amounting to $306.
Mrs Patricia Mpofu, 57, a mother of six, died at Mpilo Central Hospital after council officials handed her a notice to attach her prized four-piece sofa set, four-plate stove and a steel kitchen cabinet.
Sunday News managed to contact an uncle to the deceased, who refused to be named, and he had no kind words for the local authority.
“Honestly does all that property amount to $306, it is unfair and goes to show you that the local authority is out to make a quick buck rather than recovering what is owed to them, right now they caused the death of an innocent soul and trust me I would not be surprised if there are more cases because people are stressed
Some residents have complained about inaccurate meter readings by council, which they blamed for inflated bills.