Mutare Debt Crisis Deepens

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By Kenneth Matimaire

THE City of Mutare’s debt crisis is fast spurning out of control as ratepayers arrears increased by 123,75% to ZWL$895 million in a short space of six months, can report

In February, the city was owed ZWL$400 million in unpaid bills by residents, businesses and government.

Mutare City spokesperson Spren Mutiwi said the debt has more than doubled.

“Right now we are owed ZWL$895 million in unpaid rates. We have people who have not settled their bills since 2008,” said Mutiwi.

The development comes at a time council effected a massive rates hike of nearly 400% that sparked outcry from ratepayers.

Resident associations warned the local authority to review their rates or brace for more defaults as ratepayers – drowning in the Covid-19 induced economic shocks – could not afford the steep rates.

However, the local authority only made what residents described as “piece meal” adjustments.

“I receive a bill of ZWL$1,800 every month from council. This is about US$20 if we are to use the government exchange rate. Where am I going to get that kind of money to pay for water, let alone electricity and at the same time, feed my family.

“Right now I have to put my family needs first ahead of utility bills because the very same council closed our trading area during the first total lockdown up to now,” said Monica Baradza who used to sell clothes at Chidzere Market in the city’s downtown area.

Baradza who resides in Dangamvura high density suburb said the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a knock on her earnings exacerbated by the ill-timed rates increase, making it difficult to keep up to date with her bills.

Apart from the economic challenges faced by most residents owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, disgruntled ratepayers have been threatening to boycott settling their monthly bills.

They are of the view that the city fathers are prioritising their perks at the expense of service delivery.

This has been exacerbated by the recent acquisition of managerial vehicles at a cost of US$320,000 at a time service delivery has not been up to the expectations of ratepayers.

However, the city in its bid to restore the trust of ratepayers, responded by intensifying the recapitalising programme and procurement of service delivery vehicles.

“Five brand new vehicles were delivered and these will enhance service delivery and reduce the turnaround in addressing key service delivery issues. Very soon we are expecting a grader.

“We are moving towards restoring sound and effective service delivery,” reads a statement by the COM.

Mutare has further introduced an online payment platform where ratepayers can settle their bills as well as request statements and make balance inquiries.

The development is meant to bring convenience to residents and boost council revenue which has dwindled following the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.