Most urban councils are owed millions of dollars which the residents have been struggling to pay for years now.
The state of the economy has made it almost impossible for the residents to pay the huge amounts of money they owe to Councils.
Currently Harare is owed over ZWL$5.5 billion whilst Mutare is owed nearly ZWL$500 million. Norton, Chitungwiza and Marondera are all in the same sinking boat.
Most councils are actually still struggling to recover from the political move of 2013 when government decided to bait the electorate by cancelling their debts since 2009 in the run-up to the elections.
In the immediate aftermath Bulawayo Council missed salary deadlines for its workers. The pattern was the same across the country as Council’s reeled from the shocking and sudden move.
Experts warned that government should have first disbursed at least grants or subsidies to municipalities before writing off the debts.
Before the write-off Harare was owed US$400 million by corporates and residents, Bulawayo was owed US$100 million, Mutare was owed US$20million and Masvingo was owed around US$20 million.
All this money just vanished from the books and suddenly the Councils had nothing coming. Yet they still owed their own debtors money.
The then Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe president Femias Chakabuda said the move had weakened municipalities’ balance sheets and subsequently their borrowing capacity.
He said service delivery would decline as a result of Councils’ failure to pay their employees and there was need for the clearance of Councils’ own debts before the cancelation of debts.
The predictions have been spot-on.
The Limping Command Economy
The economy has made the situation even worse.
The Central Bank currency panoply has not helped the situation with shocking economics which have served to derail any little progress that could be had.
Government has accumulated huge and shady debts whose objective agenda has remained vague and non-existent on the ground. You cannot see what the money has been used for. The economy has suffered.
Councils have had to deal with a market that requires the use of the US$ whilst they have been collecting RTGS and Bond notes.
The variations arising from the exchange rates have hampered their financial ability.
These are not scientific equations but general common sense engendered by the peculiar Zimbabwean situation that tells you that it’s better to burn the US$ in the street and use the RTGS to pay for rates.
The end-result is that Council is saddled with heaps of impotent money which cannot do much on a market that needs hard currency.
For example, Harare has constantly complained about an inability to acquire water treatment chemicals as it lacks foreign currency.
Against this backdrop it’s shocking that residents still expect normal service from Councils.
They have repeatedly defended themselves from accusations of not paying rates, citing the poor state of the economy which they feel is enough justification not to pay.
The funny part is that they still expect proper service delivery.
However most dangerous in this simple situation are the politicians who have hijacked the situation and are constantly spinning it for their own ends.
ZANU PF has decided to spin the plight of councils into an image of the opposition’s failure to govern instead of being forthright and work to rectify the situation as the central government and chief culprit in the shoddy economy.
Pathetically, residents have allowed themselves to swallow hook, line and sinker the political rhetoric that opposition-led Council have run down cities.
A simple check of the operational status of most urban councils across the country will reveal that almost all of them are facing the same challenges.
Harare, Mutare, Marondera, Norton, Chitungwiza are all facing and fighting the same problems.
This commonality of challenges should be a signal enough that the root cause isn’t anything peculiar to each and every town but a national problem.
Whatever is the problem in the failure of urban councils to provide proper services is something national and should be dealt with first at that level.
All the puny initiatives at a local town or city level are mere interim measures that will not restore the ability of the councils to their proper operational capacity.