The Sunday News
Sunday News Reporters
MORE than 400 Bulawayo residents are set to lose their properties to council after the local authority obtained writs of execution against their assets to recover debts owed in unpaid water bills, Sunday News can reveal.
It has also emerged that that Gweru City Council is attaching property for about 53 companies including manufacturing industries and schools that owe the local authority more than $18 million.
In Bulawayo, a total of 1 840 residents have been served with civil summons over debts owed to the local authority. From the total number of summons issued, BCC obtained 485 writs of execution following 677 default judgments against the owing residents who failed to respond to the summons within the stipulated period.
Bulawayo city senior public relations officer Mrs Nesisa Mpofu confirmed the development saying council was taking similar action against companies. The local authority is owed more than $150 million by residents, industry, Government departments and parastatals in unpaid water bills. Residents owe the local authority $88 million, industry and commerce $58 million while Government departments and parastatals owe $6 million. Debts by residents date back to July 2013 while for industry, Government departments and parastatals the dues date back to 2009 when the country dollarised. Mrs Mpofu said the Government was, however, exempted from any legal action from council.
“Yes, we are issuing summons. The same process is taken against industry but not Government,” she said.
“It should be noted that Government and Zinwa have a set off arrangement with Council. The specific ministries which Government does not pay for among others include the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.”
Mrs Mpofu defended the attachment of properties belonging to the local authority’s debtors.
“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 honour his/her obligations,” she said.
Mrs Mpofu said the local authority has also been employing various strategies to recover debts which include debt swap and special arrangement.
“This is a down payment of 50 percent and current monthly payment plus 10 percent of the arrears until the outstanding bill is cleared,” she said.
Council, which is battling waning revenue inflows, is also riddled in debt as it owes over $100 million to service providers such as power utility, Zesa.
Bulawayo is, however, not alone in the predicament of poor revenue inflows and non-payment of water bills and rates, as other urban centres in the county are also facing similar challenges. Some local authorities in the country have been so hard hit with poor revenue inflows they have gone for several months without paying workers resulting in recurrent job actions.
In Gweru, a list seen by Sunday News showed that city has already attached property from a number of companies ranging from vehicles, furniture with Mkoba 1 High School losing a school bus and a school truck after the Messenger of Court was granted the execution order. Gweru Mayor Councillor Charles Chikozho said the local authority was owed more that $52 million by its defaulting clients in unpaid water bills and services.
“We are currently owed $18 290 628 by industrial and commercial consumers and Government departments owe us $4 427 679. We are also currently owed by residential consumers $29 501 105. Total debtors as at end of March is at $52 219 411.
We have been encouraging debtors to come forward and make payment plans. Some of our efforts have failed because of the liquidity crunch and resistance to own up and pay the dues owed to council. While we have handed some debtors to our legal practitioners to recover the debts, we continue to pursue the rest to come forward and negotiate with us,” he said.
The Gweru Messenger of Court recently attached residents’ property over unpaid water bills and rates owed to Gweru City Council. The local authority also went on a massive water disconnection in a bid to compel residents to pay their dues.
Clr Chikozho said Gweru City Council was grappling with a $42 million debt including $23 million owed to Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) in unpaid electricity bills.
“Our council creditors currently stand at $ 42 215 735, of this amount we owe ZETDC $23 123 499. We have since entered a deed of settlement with ZETDC at the High Court of Zimbabwe in Harare in which we are paying $60 000 per month. This is not withstanding the current monthly average bill of electricity amounting to $280 000,” he said.