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BCC turn down $2m Ascot inferno waiver

by Staff reporter
10 Oct 2022 at 06:06hrs | Views
THE Bulawayo City Council has turned down a request to waive a $2 million Fire and Ambulance Services bill by a business which lost bales of hay and property worth more than US$70 000 in an inferno in July.

The bales went up in smoke, after a fire broke out at the Ascot Racecourse in Bulawayo, destroying two trucks in the process.

The smoke could be seen from the city centre and the Fire Brigade, at the time, estimated the loss to be $30 million.

The BCC Fire and Ambulance Services rushed to extinguish the blaze and worked throughout the day into the night and the next day.

They billed Mabhele Trading nearly $2 million.

According to the latest council report, Mr Craig Tilbury, one of the partners of the business, wrote a letter to the Chamber Secretary requesting a waiver.

"The charge by the Fire Brigade of ZWL 1 907 722,00 is too heavy for us to bear considering the magnitude of our loss. Currently, our business has a total of 32 employees who feared they would lose their employment.

But we have reassured them we will do everything in our power not to terminate anyone, but rising costs of inputs, labour and now this Fire Brigade charge will add significant pressure and will bring us to our knees," read the report.

Mr Tilbury said the business needs the waiver to recover from many challenges.

"We have just managed to survive the Covid year and its restrictions, last year everyone had so much grass our bales were not in demand, June 2022 was the 1st month in 2,5 years that we paid our staff on time and we were hit with fire. It is therefore on this backdrop that we humbly request for a respite so that we can recover from this devastating loss and try to move on."

According to Mr Tilbury, the estimated cost of damage is estimated at US$61 500.

"It is broken down as follows: 1 x Mercedes Benz Heavy duty truck (ADV1312) US$17 000, 1 X DAF Heavy duty truck (AFE0772) US$15 000, 1 X Trailer (goes behind Mercedes – ACT1766 US$ 3 000, 12000 Hay Bales @ $2/Hay bale US$24 000 and cost to repair the Bale Shed US$ 2 500," read the report.

Additionally, Mr Tilbury said the business lost nearly US$10 000.

"These bales, we give National Parks 20 percent for cutting — which we have already paid them out for. In addition, 2 000 bales had been paid for but not collected by customers — we have to pay a transporter to bring them in and replace them. So, this is a further incurred loss of: National Parks 12 000 bales @ 20 percent 2 400 x $2 bale US$4 800 customer 2 000 bales @ $2/bale US$4 000 transport 2 000 bales @ $230/trip x 3 US$ 690 and the total is US$9 490," read the report.

Mr Tilbury said efforts to call the fire department were in vain as the emergency number went unanswered and they later discovered the numbers had changed.

He said it was only after a neighbour called the correct number that the fire department responded.

In response, according to the council report, the Director of Health Services Dr Edwin Sibanda did not support the request for the waiver.

"I sympathise with the applicant on the loss. However, I note that he is good at accounting for most of his losses but omits to tell us if he was insured as the greatest hazard in his trade, is fire. Did he have a fire plan? Cover? We may write off the bill only for him to claim and get a fat cheque from insurers. Waiver not supported," said Dr Sibanda.

The Town Planning Director, Mr Wisdom Siziba said businesses are expected to have contingency measures in the event of unexpected loss of business or other emergencies.

"Please be advised that the essence of emergency services, particularly the fire and ambulance services is to attend to such emergencies at a cost. The business community is expected to have contingency measures in the event of unexpected loss of business or other emergencies," said Mr Siziba.

He said the fire and ambulance services did provide a service, and the delay stated by Mr Tilbury was caused by themselves by calling an incorrect number.

"This renders the business liable for the call, which Council should at least recover the basic costs such as fuel, labour, vehicle wear and tear, etc. The consumer does not state how the other stakeholders were treated concerning their costs or whether these were paid in full despite the loss by the Mabhele Trading," said Mr Siziba.

He advised the council to recover some costs for providing the service rather than a complete write-off.

"The US$ equivalent on 25th July 2022 for $1 907 722 was US$4 095,21 excluding VAT. An 80 percent discount could be considered reasonable, the balance of which should be paid by the applicant to defray expenses."

"It was best practice that businesses should hedge against the risk of loss by insuring their businesses or stock. Whereas in the past Council had on humanitarian or compassionate grounds acceded to a write-off of Fire Brigade charges requests by domestic victims of fire, this was not recommended for commercial entities," read the report.

The councillors resolved not to accede to the request as this was not on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

Source - The Chronicle