The Sunday News
Vusumuzi Dube, Senior Municipal Reporter
THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), working with the police has advised tenants to anonymously use their offices and police stations to report landlords who are demanding rentals in foreign currency as the body prepares to swoop on the culprits.
Most landlords across the country are demanding rentals in foreign currency for both residential and business properties. A survey by Sunday News revealed that the practice of charging rentals in foreign currency has spread to almost all towns and cities in the country.
In Bulawayo landlords in the high-density suburbs are charging 100 Rand for a room while some charge US$50 for a five-roomed house. In the low density suburbs landlords charge between US$200 and US$400 per month for a three-bedroomed house.
“In the eastern suburbs the charges vary depending on the type of surburb, location and state of the property,” said an estate agent with offices along George Silundika Street. In Gweru houses in Mkoba are going for about US$100 per month.
Students from Midlands State University (MSU) who rent in Senga are made to pay US$50 per head and a landlord rakes in as much as US$500 for an average house in the high-density suburb.
“It depends on the landlord, some are charging US$50 while others are demanding US$20 per head,” said a student from MSU.
In Gwanda, landlords prefer to charge in Rand and houses are pegged between R200 and R2 000 per month.
However, Zacc has reiterated the Government’s stance that the foreign currency demands were illegal. Zacc spokesperson Mr John Makamure told Sunday News that while the monitoring of rental charges was not their primary mandate, they were, however, working with the police to ensure the implementation of Statutory Instrument 213 of 2019 which criminalises the charging in forex without seeking such a mandate from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
“What is happening is that we are working with the police in monitoring this therefore we encourage members of the public to either approach our officials or their nearest police station. As you might know Zacc and the police are more of one entity in fighting such corrupt elements, worse still when there is a specific law that criminalises such acts,” said Mr Makamure.
Affirmative Action Group Matabeleland Chapter president Mr Reginald Shoko took a swipe at the landlords saying such people were not only bleeding the economy but were contributing to the suffering of Zimbabweans.
He said the fact that the landlords collected rentals in forex but subsequently were not remitting their taxes and rates in the same currencies was reason enough for them to be arrested and charged for corruption.
“We know that some people now think it is normal to demand rentals in forex but what monthly repairs do they do to their properties that require foreign currency, they don’t pay rentals in forex, neither do they remit taxes in forex. Clearly these people are contributing to the country’s economic meltdown because what they are doing is tantamount to money laundering,” said Mr Shoko.
Bulawayo Real Estate managing director, Mr Michael Nekati said while it was illegal for landlords to charge their rentals in forex, they were faced with a situation where some were demanding such payment as a means of cushioning themselves from inflation.
“It is a difficult scenario because while you have the law that criminalises this practice, landlords come in and claim there is a problem of the runaway inflation hence I feel there is a need for relevant stakeholders to look into this and come up with a lasting solution,” said Mr Nekati.
Meanwhile, Bulawayo residents are also up in arms with the council over the local authority’s recent move to effect a 716 percent rates and rental hike, with residents arguing that it violates their basic human rights. This comes amid revelations that a meeting organised by the council in Mpopoma to explain the council’s new credit policy was abandoned after the local authority sent a junior official.
The local authority this month started billing residents using their new rates as prescribed by the approved 2020 budget with a survey by this publication revealing that residents are now forking out between $280 and $700 in council rates per month.
In a letter to the Town Clerk, Mr Christopher Dube, Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) secretary for administration Mr Thembelani Dube said the new tariffs left residents exposed to the poverty trap as a huge chunk, if not all their monthly savings would now be directed to paying of council bills.
“The high increase means that residents will be forced to pay more than 50 percent of their earnings towards utility bills which directly violates the economic principles which recommends that utility bills should not cost more than six percent of one’s earnings for them to be considered affordable.
“The new rates fall outside what ordinary civil servants earn and what residents are able to generate from informal trading. Residents will not be able to escape the poverty trap given the high cost of rates as they shall be left with no disposable incomes to pay on other needs after paying council,” said Mr Dube.
The residents further accused the local authority of ignoring their concerns regarding the budget claiming it was not accurate that residents had endorsed it during outreaches held by council.
“This has been vindicated by the fact that during the consultations on the credit policy, council is sending junior employees who go on their own without anyone recording minutes and residents’ views. A meeting was recently aborted in Mpopoma after residents protested the decision by BCC to send a junior council employee with no one to take minutes and record their grievances. Residents felt taken for granted by this gesture,” said Mr Dube.
Bulawayo Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni is on record saying it was impossible for the local authority to review downwards its new rates as these had been endorsed by both the residents and the Government. He added that the new rates will enable council to provide services to residents.