[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Service delivery protests - Bulawayans boycott municipal and electricity payments
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri May 1 06:14:54 BST 2009
Zimbabwe: Urban Residents Left Behind By Dollarisation
28 April 2009
Bulawayo — Cash-strapped residents of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city
are digging in their heels and refusing to pay utility bills despite the
municipality teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. At the heart of the
dispute are dismal service delivery and the conundrum of using multiple
currencies in an economy that boasts world record inflation.
The parallel use of multiple currencies announced in January by Tendai
Biti, the newly appointed minister of finance in the unity government,
effectively rendered the local currency extinct in everyday
transactions. According to economists more stable currencies are being
preferred as a hedge against hyper inflation and the local currency's
volatility after years of economic recession. But the policy barons
appear to have underplayed the local reality of ratepayers who do not
have access to foreign currency.
Embattled industry and commerce officials say employers are struggling
to keep their businesses afloat and have not yet made arrangements to
pay workers in foreign currency. In the public sector the situation
appears even worse as the government has not been able to secure funds
for civil service salaries. It is commonplace these days for bodies to
lie in state morgues for days as relatives struggle to raise burial
expenses that must also be settled in foreign currency.
Residents in high density areas are expected to pay 15 U.S. dollars a
month towards refuse collection, water consumption, sewerage and the
general maintenance of the city. More affluent areas have to fork out
more than double that amount. All households are also charged $100 for
electricity. But revenue collection constraints have hamstrung the local
authority and impacted on its ability to deliver services.
"We know it is difficult for everyone right now but [cannot] expect a
change in service delivery as long as residents [don't] pay their
bills," said Thelma Khuyo of the council's finance department.
"Even in the past, before the introduction of forex, we would have
residents in arrears and houses would be auctioned. But now many who
feel like not paying are just ignoring their bills."
Bob Mguni of the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BUPRA)
concedes that the failure to pay utility bills has made matters
difficult for the council but maintains that residents have no choice.
"There has been no deliberate call by any association to boycott bill
payment. This is not organised mass action. What the people are simply
doing is responding to their economic realities."
Winos Dube, chairperson of the Bulawayo Residents Association (BURA),
which was formed in the 1960s said residents will never sustain council
activities through rates alone.
"We have in the past suggested that the council must have some kind of
income-generating projects since the municipality already has a number
of assets and properties but this has not happened."
While acknowledging the council's poor finances, Bulawayo mayor Thaba
Moyo contended that officials were trying to find solutions to the
city's woes. On Mar. 16 he announced that the local council would
purchase water purification chemicals for the next three months.
The source of the funding is not known but many believe the city is
trying to appease increasingly restive residents, as unclean water has
been a source of conflict in the past.
Last December, the mayor had complained that the city was unable to
procure chemicals because suppliers were demanding cash upfront. It also
coincided with a three-month strike by municipal workers who demanded to
be paid in foreign currency. The industrial action put further strain on
the perennially broke council and its already under-par service delivery.
Residents have taken it upon themselves to volunteer their services to
spruce up a city once celebrated as one of Africa's cleanest. Groups of
women have resorted to tending to council-owned schools where they,
among other things, cut overgrown grass. Young people have organised
clean-up campaigns to remove the rubbish that has been piling up across
the city. It is not unusual these days to see unemployed youth filling
potholes in the streets for tips from motorists.
"We have to do this as we all know the city council is failing to do it
themselves," Owen Garise, a local youth commented.
"We have taken it upon ourselves to do something and have among other
things asked residents to donate in cash or kind to the city's largest
hospital," Dube told IPS.
A former councilor, Howard Hadebe, applauded citizen efforts to assist
the municipality but cautioned against resident associations taking
stands that "identify" them with a political party and "spoils" the
relationship between the local authority and residents.
"For example, when you question how council budgets are reached without
consultation with residents, you are painted with a particular political
brush," snapped Dube. "It is unfortunate that once politicians are voted
into power they do not listen."
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