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Byo councillors reject proposed re-aligned tariffs

…. resolve to reduce by 50% USD payments

Bulawayo councillors on Monday resolved to revise by half, payments made in US Dollars after rejecting the proposed realigned tariffs set by the city council management, CITE can reveal.

The councillors argued that the proposed charges were too high and residents would not afford them during a meeting held at the council chambers to discuss the alignment of tariff charges to the current economic conditions.

Council management had said according to its approved budget, residents were to pay an average of US$30 monthly, which could either be paid in foreign currency or in local currency at the equivalent interbank rate.

But councillors felt the figure was too high compared to the multi-currency regime that was in place during 2009 to 2013, where residents in western areas paid an average of US$20.

After a protracted debate, reliable sources said councillors finally resolved to reduce the US$30 payment by half while payments made in local currency would remain as is, noting consultations on the subject had to be done.

This development comes after the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) said it was reviewing its tariffs by indexing them to the US dollar, citing the weakness of the local currency that continued to be eroded by inflation.

In an interview with CITE, BCC Chairperson of the Finance and Development Committee Councillor Tawanda Ruzive, confirmed councillors resolved residents who opted to pay rates in foreign currency can pay US$15 while those who wanted to pay bills in local currency shall pay the US$30 equivalent to the interbank rate.

“A city runs through a budget and once approved, has to remain as is until the end of the year or we do a supplementary budget between the time. In this case, in January when the budget started running, Makokoba for example was supposed to pay about US$30 using a rate of US$1: ZWL$86 used at that time. Because we left things like that for a long time that US$30 is now worth US$4, in two months it will be worth zero and it’s not sustainable,” he said.

Ruzive said the council had two options to solve the issue.

“Either we do a supplementary budget or still go back to the US$30 we were charging looking at the rate of the current interbank rate then residents can pay that. Since the US$30 is too much, we said can we come down to half so residents pay that, as long as they give us hard currency,” he explained.

“With US$15,council can do a lot more as that is real money that can buy.”

After deliberating, councillors also agreed to go back to residents and explain these tariff options to them.

“We need that balance together with residents, not for the town clerk to write something before we agree as councillors. Now we are starting a due process to consult residents so they understand,” Ruzive said. 

“Consultations will start this coming weekend virtually. Each councillor will lead consultations in their ward. By next week, we should be done.”

Sources had said councillors were unhappy with the management’s proposal, saying the tariff realignment pitted them against residents.

“Councillor Felix Mhaka (Ward 5) and Councillor Arnold Batirai (Ward 24) wanted an explanation as to where the new figures came from, with Batirai asking the management to apologise,” sources said.

“However, Councillor Donaldson Mabutho (Ward 9) felt councillors must correct the mistake done by the council management since they had not consulted them. He said there was no need to fight but do what was best for residents and the city, a point that Councillor Rodney Jele (Ward 22) agreed with.”

Sources claimed Councillor Edwin Ndlovu (Ward 8) argued that during the dollarisation period, residents in his ward paid an average of US$20 and cannot afford the proposed US$30.

“Ndlovu suggested that the USD payments be further reduced by 50 percent so they can safeguard residents’ interests. Councillor Sikhululekile Moyo (Ward 17) and Councillor Christopher Dube (Ward 19) supported the move to reduce the US$ figure while Alderman Ernest Rafamoyo (Ward 20) added residents trusted the council to run the city, so the proposed US$30 was too much for the already struggling residents,” sources said.

“An official from the finance department explained that management had only indexed the rates and did not change anything but would re-align figures although he advised councillors that the city’s budget would be revised downwards.”

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