The Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has disconnected water supplies to some government schools over a $12 million debt to the local authority by the government.
While the local authority has been criticised for cutting water supplies at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, it argued that the central government is not adhering to old procedure of setting-off interdepartmental debts.
As it stands, the city owes the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) over $100 million and the government is owing the local authority close to a similar amount.
Giving a report on the state of schools in the time of Covid-19 recently, Deputy Provincial Education Director (PED), Thabani Sibanda, said the challenge was that some government schools had no water as they owed BCC.
Sibanda also added that schools had a shortage of sanitisers but was working with partners to provide clean water.
“We are working with partners to provide clean water such as Africa Ahead, SOS, ZOL, Higher Life Foundation who have provided Jojo tanks to most of our schools,” he said.
Bulawayo Town Clerk, Christopher Dube, explained that the city was not unreasonable but had to take such drastic measures to force the government pay.
“This issue was caused by the Ministry of Finance as we used to have a set-off arrangement with the ministry, other government departments and ZIMRA. At the moment we are owing ZIMRA over $100 million and the government is almost owing close to a similar amount,” he said.
“We would do a set-off arrangement where no money is involved and use journal entries where government departments pay by doing a journal entry that they have paid and the ministry of finance also does a journal entry that we have paid ZIMRA.”
The town clerk indicated that if such an arrangement comes back again, it would assist both council and the government departments.
“It means we are not going to bother government departments and disconnect them. The issue of disconnections is diabolic, we don’t want it as a city. We want to go back to set-off arrangements because it doesn’t create any conflict between the City of Bulawayo and government departments. The set-off must come back but the ministry of finance has said in terms of accounting, it’s bad accounting to do those set-offs,” Dube said.
He added that the set-off had also been discussed by the Office of the Auditor-General as it was working.
“There were no quarrels and we were not going to disconnect (water from government departments). It is my humble request to have set-off arrangements so that we have no problem with government departments because as it seems, it appears as if we are anti-government,” said the town clerk.
In response, Local Government and Public Works Minister, July Moyo tasked the town clerk to put the matter in writing so he could take it up.
“It makes a lot of sense but making a lot of sense doesn’t make legal sense sometimes because of compliance on the Public Finance Management Act. It might be difficult but let’s take it and see how we can navigate a decision especially now that a lot of local authorities are being owed by the government and the government is owed by local authorities. Some of you are not charging them , yet you ought to be charging them as they are charging you,” he said.
Moyo also said as the government implemented devolution such local solutions were needed.
“As we perfect our devolution agenda, these are issues coming to the fore and now we have an opportunity to address them and they can be addressed in a better way if coming from the local authority because you are in practice…so I must have that paper so that I go and discuss it,” said the minister.