Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo says the move by government to write off debt owed to local authorities by residents was not the cause of the current liquidity crisis in local authorities because the move actually saved them money.
He was responding to questions in Parliament following a complaint by Chitungwiza North Member of Parliament Godfrey Sithole that some workers in Chitungwiza municipality had gone unpaid for five to nine months.
Kambuzuma legislator Willias Madzimure said one of the major causes was the debt write-off because local authorities did not have any money after that decision.
The debt write-off was viewed as vote buying as it was announced a week before the crucial 31 July 2013 elections and seemed to be targeted at voters in urban areas which are the Movement for Democratic Change strongholds.
“The debts which we scraped originated from the era of the Zimbabwean dollar. So it is the Zimbabwean dollar era debts which were converted into the United States dollar era which we asked to be scraped off. When the debt you are accruing is genuine, true and correct, we cannot do that. I think everyone has an obligation to pay,” Chombo said in response to Madzimure.
“So the assertion you wish to make that the local authorities are in that situation because of that write-off – No! The local authorities are actually in a better situation because of the decision we took. If somebody owed local authorities US$10, it takes more than US$70 for a lawyer to go and collect US$10. So by scraping off the US$10, you are saving the Council US$70 and so, US$70 – US$10 = US$60 saved.”
Q & A:
MR. SITHOLE: Thank you Madam Speaker. Since the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare is not here, my question is directed to the Leader of the House Hon. Mnangagwa. Chitungwiza Municipality is burning and the workers there have not been receiving their salaries for the past several months. What is the Government doing in terms of policy intervention measures so that we ensure that these workers get their salaries? Thank you.
THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (MR. MNANGAGWA): Mr. Speaker, I would have replied to the question if the responsible Minister of Local Government, Hon. Chombo was not in the House. Now that he is in the House, I will give him the opportunity to deal with the question.
THE MINISTER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT, PUBLIC WORKS AND NATIONAL HOUSING (DR. CHOMBO): Madam Speaker, can I get his question properly again.
MR. SITHOLE: The question is very straightforward. The workers at Chitungwiza Municipality have not been receiving salaries for the past several months, some of them five months and others, nine months. So, what is the Ministry doing in terms of policy intervention measures to ensure that these workers receive their salaries so that we have proper service delivery in the local municipality? Thank you.
DR. CHOMBO: Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his very important question. When employees, whether employed by local authorities, private companies or any entity work, they are entitled to a salary. The Chitungwiza situation is the same. The hard working Chitungwiza workers put in their time but what they collect from the residents by way of rates, tariffs and levies is not enough to pay for the wages that they earn. It therefore becomes critical that the city fathers; the mayor and the councillors have got to make decisions, whether to retrench the staff so that they can keep the staff sufficient enough to be paid by what they collect.
That decision is really not made by the Ministry but it is made by the mayor and his team and I will encourage them to relook at the situation and secondly, sometimes also the situation economically may not be good in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza. So sometimes the workers and the management come to an agreement that they will pay in staggered situations so that they do not have to put people out of work.
So the management took the decision that they might as well pay workers in bits and pieces but avoiding having to lay them off, which sometimes is a good position. As Government, we are concerned not only about Chitungwiza but also about any local authority, any Government parastatal and for that matter any company. Once you work you deserve to be paid.
You have said your question is a policy question but it is not really a policy, it is the fact that every local authority is duty bound to pay when a person has worked.
MR. MADZIMURE: Thank you Minister. Do you not also think that it is only ten months down the line after you had asked the local authorities to write-off the debt they also relied on as they collected to pay the workers? Can you not also give another directive that can help the local authorities to raise enough money?
DR. CHOMBO: Thank you Madam Speaker, the follow-up question is quite interesting – [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.] – the debts which we scraped originated from the era of the Zimbabwean dollar. So it is the Zimbabwean dollar era debts which were converted into the United States dollar era which we asked to be scraped off. When the debt you are accruing is genuine, true and correct, we cannot do that. I think everyone has an obligation to pay.
So the assertion you wish to make that the local authorities are in that situation because of that write-off – No! The local authorities are actually in a better situation because of the decision we took. If somebody owed local authorities US$10, it takes more than US$70 for a lawyer to go and collect US$10. So by scraping off the US$10, you are saving the Council US$70 and so, US$70 – US$10 = US$60 saved [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear]. Thank you Madam Speaker.