Vic Falls Municipality stuck: Residents tell officials – you want to milk a dying cow

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By Matabeleland North Correspondent

VICTORIA Falls residents, on Thursday rejected a budget adjustment proposal by the municipality which would have seen the cost of some services go up five times.

Residents have instead urged the local authority to bill hotels and business premises who they said have access to foreign currency.

At two meetings, held at Chinotimba Hall for wards 6, 9, and 10 as well as Chamabondo school for ward 11, residents told council officials that the local authority is trying to “milk a dying cow” by over-billing them.

Victoria Falls council had an RTGS$22 million budget, for 2019 approved by government in February.

However, management now feels the budget has since been eroded by inflation since the monetary policy statement presented in February which pegged the exchange rate between RTGS$ currency and US$ at 1:2.50. Since then the situation has changed with the local currency losing over half of its value at the official market  while the parallel market rate has shot through the roof to US$: 5RTGS$.

Council also wants to adjust the budget based on either 2.5 percent currency exchange rate or pegging prices at the parallel market rate.

At the meetings, residents vehemently opposed the proposals, arguing they are already saddled with huge debts and some of them have received summons from the same council to appear in court after failing to pay.

Ward 11 residents walked out of the meeting in anger leaving council officials who included councillor Edmore Zhou embarrassed.

They complained that the municipality sought to increase rates yet it does not employ locals but actually “imports labour from other provinces”.

“We can’t be paying more rates and bills when you don’t even employ locals. You bring people from elsewhere and they go back to pay rates in their places of origin yet we are expected to pay rates here,” fumed a resident.

The residents complained about lack of transparency and service delivery failure by council adding they have been paying for street lights for the past decade yet nothing has happened.

Earlier, Councillor Zhou had assured residents that the meeting was meant to gather their views about the supplementary budget, to top up on the current revenue plan for the year.

Residents urged council to be innovative in order to increase its revenue streams.

“Rates have changed and that’s why we are here to consult you on what we can do. Everything has gone up by around 300 or even 500% and we are saying can we adjust our budget especially on things we don’t pay for on daily basis,” said ward 4 councillor Patricia Mwale as she opened the meeting.

But one resident shot back almost immediately.

“The economy is rotten. Even if we say increase by 1 000% we will be here again for the same process next week because prices increase on daily basis.

“Can you find some projects to do like opening bars so you raise money than to rely on us,” said the resident.