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Inflated BCC bills spark outrage

by Staff reporter
05 Jul 2022 at 21:04hrs | Views
BULAWAYO City Council's decision to index charges in foreign currency and convert these at the prevailing official exchange rate has sparked outrage with residents saying they have received shocking bills for the month of June alone.

The situation is worse for those who were owing as their arrears have also ballooned after being converted into forex, and they are now supposed to clear both on inflated terms.

According to a council schedule, residents from Ward 1, which covers the city centre are supposed to fork out US$110 in monthly bills, which is equivalent to about $40 000.

Those who reside in medium density suburbs like Romney Park, Queens Park, Khumalo and Paddonhurst have to pay average US$70, equivalent to about $25 000 monthly.

High density suburbs such Barbourfields, Mzilikazi, Nguboyenja and Thorngrove Infill, including Burombo Flats, will pay US$29.34, which is equivalent to $10 000, based on last week's Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe auction rate of US$1 is $366,26.

The Bulawayo City Council (BCC) pulled a shocker a few weeks back when it announced the decision to have its tariffs quoted in foreign currency at the prevailing official exchange rate.

All along, ratepayers had been paying their bills in local currency and the council expressed concern that its revenue was being eroded by prevailing inflationary pressures, which negatively affect service delivery.

Under the new arrangement, residents have to brace for constant increases determined by exchange rate fluctuation, which do not match workers' earnings.

Yesterday hundreds of residents thronged the Revenue Hall in the city centre to enquire about their latest bills before making payments.

They expressed shock over the increases, which they said were beyond the reach of many and feared the council decision will worsen the number of defaulters as people's incomes are generally lower.

A ratepayer, who identified herself as MaNcube accused council of making unilateral decisions without consulting residents.

She said the latest charges were a way of forcing people to leave the town.

"I think I should go to my rural home in Matobo.

We've a dam nearby and that's where I will draw my water unlike here where every month I'll be paying more," she fumed.

Also in the queue was Gogo MaKhumalo who described the council billing system as shambolic.

"I have been coming here many times after I asked why is it that my bill isn't reducing even if I'm diligently paying," she said.

"They said they are fixing the system and the bill will be lower.

But when I came here again, they gave me a huge bill of $5 000 saying this is what I owe.

I paid and still the bill isn't being reduced."

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association organising secretary, Mr Thembelani Dube, said if residents are not listened to by Council, they will demonstrate against the city fathers and take them to court.

"Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) members are not ruling out the possibility of exercising their displeasure through demonstrations and if need be, taking Bulawayo City Council to court, amongst other options residents have that are enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe," said Mr Dube.

"BPRA refused to take part in a hurriedly convened meeting by the Bulawayo City Council meant to sanitise the decision, which is anti-residents.

"As BPRA we continue to encourage good stakeholder relationships anchored on consultation, pro-poor decisions and mutual respect."

Mr Dube said as an association they rejected the move to index bills in US dollars based on the fact that the local authority did not consult with residents on its planned move.

"Our fears as BPRA are being confirmed by the high rates being received by the residents.

As BPRA we did convene an all-wards chairpersons meeting last week Tuesday 28 June 2022.

"The ward chairpersons representing residents from the respective wards unanimously dismissed the move to US$ indexed billing system," he said.

"The 2022 budget was Zimbabwe dollar-based and, therefore, residents are not aware of the United States dollar equivalent in their respective wards," said Mr Dube.

He said the council overlooked vulnerable households where the people cannot afford to pay.

"The United States dollar indexed bills will see the rates increasing every Tuesday when the inter-bank rate is announced.

The majority of the child-headed households, those households headed by the unemployed and the widowed will find it difficult to pay the bills," said Mr Dube.

"The new billing system will be an albatross around the necks of the generality of the residents of Bulawayo."

Mr Dube said as a way forward the residents urge the BCC department of finance headed by the director, Mr Kimpton Ndimande, to consult rate payers first.

"Hold mid-year consultative budget review/tracking meetings where they will clarify the issue of indexing the rates against the United States dollar.

The meetings must be addressed by the finance department technocrats and tell the residents how much the respective suburbs will be paying in United States dollar equivalent since the 2022 budget proposals discussed last year were Zimbabwe dollar-based," said Mr Dube.

In response, Bulawayo Deputy Mayor Councillor Mlandu Ncube encouraged residents to pay their bills diligently.

"We encourage the residents to pay the bills with the little that they have.

Also, they arrange payment plans for their bills," he said.

"The bills are the reflection of the consumption of water, a reflection of the cost to collect refuse and services," said Clr Ncube.

He said the council was working within the law as pegging prices in US dollars and other currencies are part of the multi-currency system that is a law.

"We can't say this is illegal, because the Minister of Finance said now you can display your prices in both US and local currency.

"So, the cost of your bill is in US dollars and also displayed in local currency.

Residents must understand that council isn't making a profit with those bills, it's just for us to provide them with clean water, collect refuse and the like," said Clr Ncube.

Source - The Chronicle
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