By Staff Reporter
A GROUP representing the affairs of Mutare residents and ratepayers is up in arms with authorities in the eastern border city for unilaterally hiking rates by more than 300 percent when residents were struggling to survive a tough economic period which has further been worsened by the effects of the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
The rate increase, according to the city, was an attempt to cushion the local authority against inflation and high cost of service delivery.
The new tariff regime saw most residents in high-density areas pay over ZWL$5 000 for service charges per month, an amount they say was obscene considering the state of the economy.
In a statement, United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust (UMMRT) accused authorities of violating legal provisions governing municipal budgets through unilaterally hiking tariffs without approval and inspection by residents.
“UMMRT condemns the violation of legal provisions governing municipal budgeting by the City of Mutare. We are very concerned with the recent tariff hike on the basis that it is a product of a flawed process.
“City council has once again clandestinely increased tariffs without approval and inspection by residents despite several efforts made by UMMRT to get council to charge reasonable tariffs during the pandemic,” said the residents’ group.
The civic group said it has appealed with council several times not to increase tariffs and consider ratepayers during the pandemic.
“Most citizens are unemployed, essential businesses are closed, the informal sector is on lockdown and the pandemic worsened the situation.
“Residents and ratepayers are financially crippled and for city council to continue milking them when they have objected to last year’s budget is unbelievable,” said UMMRT.
The group said when council advertised the 2020 supplementary budget and tariff adjustment, residents and ratepayers submitted 2 000 objections which perpetuated dialogue with council.
“We had a series of meetings with the council last year October and November, one with Finance Director in which he promised that residential rates would not be adjusted and that review for commercial rates was in process.
“We are of the view that the move is undemocratic, and it is evident that city council is going to face resistance from residents who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“UMMRT reiterates that any budget or rates increment that is a product of a flawed process will definitely impact revenue collection because of lack of buy-in by residents.
“We appeal to council to consider the tariff hike because it is not sustainable in this economic environment.
“We recommend the city council to strongly take into consideration the concerns of residents and revert back to old tariffs.
“UMMRT will continue to engage City Council to ensure rates come down,” said the residents’ group.
However, in a statement, the city council insists Mutare rates were in fact the cheapest city in the country and were principally designed to ensure continuity of service delivery provision.
“There was no clandestine process which was done. Consultations were done in accordance with the provisions of the law and residents’ representatives UMMRT, Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURA), Business community and SMEs among others attended.
“The proposed tariffs’ were advertised in the press and budget was approved by the ministry. The only major highlight is water tariff which calls for discipline in water usage,” said the local authority.
Council also said cost of production has gone up and fees were being driven by input costs.
“For example, council buys water from Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) and the cost of raw water has been increasing throughout the year. Water treatment chemicals are charged in foreign currency, spare parts and maintenance of the plant and network are all pegged in USD,” said the council.
The local authority also said when council concluded the 2019-2020 budget, the rate of US dollar was pegged at US$1: $16 and today, the same rate has shot up to 1:83.
“That speaks volumes to the changes in terms of prices of goods, material and services,” said the local authority.
Some residents have accused councillors of working in cahoots with council management to propel rates beyond the reach of many.
“What is the role of councillors when the management can unilaterally hike rates? Either they are conniving, or they are enjoying packs and forgetting the constituency that voted them into office,” said Gift Mareyangepo of Sakubva.
Others said council should swallow its pride revert back to 2020 rates and further engage the ratepayers.