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Residents risk losing properties over unpaid bills

by Staff reporter
21 May 2024 at 10:35hrs | Views
The Bulawayo City Council has warned that thousands of residents may lose their properties if they default on paying their bills.

Over 2,000 households have already had their water supplies disconnected as the council attempts to recover US$45.8 million in outstanding debts. According to the latest council minutes, 622 households in the Lobengula suburb alone have been referred to the council's legal section to recover debts through court proceedings.

Although property attachment is a last resort, residents' associations and the council's legal team recently met. During the meeting, council representative Dickson Moyo warned that residents risk losing their properties through litigation.

"The council has an open-door policy for residents to engage with us and avoid the tedious process of litigation," Moyo said. "Each month, residents receive statements showing their monthly consumption and the amount due. This helps remind them whether their debt is increasing or decreasing. We encourage residents to contact our offices if they face any challenges or do not understand their bills."

Despite these efforts, Moyo noted that many residents ignore monthly statements and notices sent before disconnections and legal action. "Summons are issued beforehand from the courts through the messenger of court. Defendants are given about seven days to respond and negotiate a payment plan with the council and courts. Ignoring these summons leads to default judgments and property auctions, which are managed by the messenger of court, not the council. Properties may be sold at low prices, potentially leading to further attachment of assets," Moyo explained.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) secretary for administration, Thembelani Dube, urged residents to settle their bills to avoid litigation. "The council should also give residents ample notice before cutting off services. Water is a right, and there should be mutual understanding between the council and residents. Those in debt should engage with the council to make payment plans and avoid property attachment," Dube said.

The council's tough measures come as the Government has directed it to improve revenue collection efficiency by 22 percent in the second quarter of the year. The council's debt reached US$52 million in March, with residents, industries, and Government departments all owing various amounts. Domestic debtors accounted for US$29 million, industrial and commercial debtors owed US$14 million, and Government departments owed US$3 million.

Local Government and Public Works Permanent Secretary, Dr. John Basera, approved the city's 2024 budget on March 22, with a directive to

improve revenue collection from 38 percent to at least 60 percent in the second quarter of 2024. He also emphasized the need for continuous engagement with residents.

Between February and March, there was a 30 percent increase in debtors, which the council attributed to the ongoing rebasing of tariffs as the country continues to use the local currency. The council has cited resource constraints in the debt management section as a challenge.

During this period, the city's creditors also increased by four percent, from US$13.2 million to US$13.6 million, mainly due to the procurement of critical infrastructure development components. Council departments have been urged to improve service delivery to meet customers' expectations, which would support timely payment of bills.

Bulawayo Mayor, Councillor David Coltart, referred questions to the council's public relations department, which requested questions in writing.

Source - the chronicle
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