…Mayor says City of Mutare in catch-22, Government should intervene
ONLY the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, July Moyo, can immediately rescind the proposals effected in the 2019 Supplementary Budget, City of Mutare Mayor Councillor Blessing Tandi has said.
In an interview with EasternTimesZim on Wednesday, the Mutare Mayor, said they are in a catch-22 situation, but maintained that due diligence was done on their decisions effected in the 2019 Supplementary Budget. This comes in the wake of calls for a redress made by some residents and civic society groups after receiving shocking water utility bills for the month of September.
Mayor Tandi said according to Section 314 of the Urban Councils Act only the Minister may reverse, suspend or rescind resolutions and decisions of councils, adding that as a local authority they could only amend the resolution after six-months, when they do a review, according to the Act.
“We cannot rescind immediately because it will appear like we did not do due diligence as councilors when we passed the supplementary budget, which is not correct. However, According to Section 314, where the Minister is of the view that any resolution, decision or action of a council is not in the interests of the inhabitants of the council area concerned, or is not in the national or public interest, the Minister may direct the Council to reverse, suspend or rescind such a resolution or decision or to reverse or suspend such action. Through the Minister, this can be done immediately,” he said.
He added that the direction by the Minister should be in writing and as a Council they will be forced to comply within 30-days according to the Urban Councils Act. Mayor Tandi however said the other only way the local authority could be forced to rescind the supplementary budget was if an objection is made by residents.
“Right now we have received a few complaints by individuals, but these cannot be called objections according to our Urban Councils Act. There has to be a sizeable number for us to consider it an objection by the residents. For instance in the 2019 Budget we had charged transporters $300 for their license of one term (four months), but they approached us and appealed for an objection and we amended it to $100. We are a listening local authority but people have to understand our hands are also tied at the moment with the current hyper-inflationary environment,” said the Mayor.
During its special Council meeting held on August 28 after completing its supplementary budget public consultations, Council passed a resolution and approved its 2019 Supplementary Budget in terms of Section 219 of the Urban Councils Act. Although some proposals which concern high density areas still await the approval of the Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, the supplementary budget proposals for commercial, industrial, institutional and low density areas were effected on September 1, in accordance with the Urban Council Act. The proposed tariff increment for high density areas was 80 percent.
The local authority intends to raise its preliminary 2019 budget of $31.1 million to $36.4 million through various tariff measures. The major proposals that have raised the ire of residents are the 800 percent tariff increment on all commercial, industrial and institutional areas, and the 500 percent increment on all billiables outside local government authorities.
This saw a sharp increase in water and rates charges in September. Some commercial and industrial properties that were paying the local authority $900 (RTGS) before, saw their bills raised to over $8000 (RTGS) whilst some residents in the low and medium density suburbs that were paying approximately $100 (RTGS) now have to pay over $400 (RTGS). Most people that EasternTimesZim talked to said the increment was unsustainable and not affordable and it would hit hard on tenants. They suggested a redress ranging between 150 to 300 percent.
“What people have to realize is that things are far from normal at the moment in our country. We understand that our people are suffering, but as a local authority we need to offer services to the same people of which effective service needs money and consistent revenue flows. For instance, since last week Wednesday until on Monday this week we failed to get fuel and we were not able to collect refuse within those days. With this current heat wave without refuse collection it may lead to a health hazard in some areas, so some issues are macroeconomic and beyond us,” said Mayor Tandi.
The Mayor added that early this year they spent about $150 000 (RTGS) on water treatment chemicals per month, but are currently spending about $1.5 million (RTGS) per month, citing that inflation was really affecting their day to day operations. He said during a meeting with local authorities held in October, Minister Moyo said his Ministry had plans to mediate and assist the struggling cash strapped local authorities. Mayor Tandi however said he cannot afford to wait and see for now, but to enforce austerity measures for them to stay afloat.
Mayor Tandi shifted the blame on Government, which he said is failing to deal with the causatives of hyperinflation and the price hike madness in the country that erupted immediately after Government put an end to the multi-currency system. He for that reason disputed the assertion raised that as Councilors they were being inhuman and failing to represent their people.
“We are not being inhuman but in this case the best way of being human is giving them a service. The door has not been shut and as Council according to the Urban Councils Act we accept objections raised by residence if the meet a certain threshold. But people should also be realistic. Classes are there. The low density areas are different from high density areas which were referred to as African townships,” he said.
In an interview with this publication mid-last month, the United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust (UMRRT) director, retired Bishop Sebastian Bakare, slammed the uncivilized and undemocratic disregard for public consultation resolutions that was shown by the City of Mutare Councilors. He said residents were not pleased by the resolution made by Council of effecting the supplementary budget, regardless of objections by the city`s various stakeholders
Bishop Bakare said that it was thoughtless for the local authority to take residents for granted because this could lead to boycotts as was done before. “We have already engaged the local authority regarding the matter because residents deserve an explanation. Council should take these budget consultation meetings seriously. If the majority of residents rejected the supplementary budget, the council should have respected that because they are there to serve the residents. Budget consultations will lose their value due to the council’s failure to implement submissions by residents and after this move, for me it means consulting is a matter of teasing people. The budget consultation is the most important process that is supposed to bring out favourable solutions to both parties for buy-in, but if treated like a ceremonial event the aftereffects may be resistance and I am sure they do not want that,” he said.