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Battle-lines drawn over Gweru new tariffs

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GWERU residents have blasted council for formulating a ZW$3.2 billion budget which will see tariffs going up by more than 60% without factoring in stakeholders’ input.

STEPHEN CHADENGA
The government last week approved the city’s ZW$3.2 billion 2021 budget but residents said the local authority ignored stakeholders’ inputs made during last year’s consultative meetings.

Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Association (GRRA) director Cornelia Selipiwe described the city’s 2021 budget as “elitist” and failing to “speak to the concerns of the majority poor residents.”
Selipiwe said he foresaw a series of protests from ratepayers after council’s failure to take into account their concerns.

“During the budget consultations, what residents wanted was a reduction of the proposed budget by at least 50%,” Selipiwe told The NewsHawks.

“You should take note that the economy of Gweru is largely a vendor economy and now that they are in lockdown they face serious challenges in raising money. So, any increment effected on tariffs on bills means people won’t afford.”

The GRRA boss said by moving to have the budget approved said ratepayers would not be able to pay, creating grounds for potential clashes with council.

“People would not be able to pay and once they don’t pay council would want to disconnect water and also take them to court,” he said.

“Once councils take that route, people will protest. What I therefore foresee as the biggest challenge in 2021 are a lot of demonstrations.”

Gweru United Progressive Residents and Ratepayers Development Association Trust executive director David Chikore weighed in, saying they have already begun the process of lobbying  for the review of the approved budget.

Chikore said the new tariffs are likely to be implemented at a time most people were reeling from the Covid-19 lockdown effects.

“Lockdowns which now seem to be the new normal disrupts meaningful economic activity and negatively impacts on people’s sources of income most of whom are in the informal sector,” he said.

“This is an anti-people budget which largely ignores the voices of stakeholders who attended the budget consultative meetings. Those who attended the meetings rejected council’s proposed tariff hikes hence our next move would be for the downward review of this budget.”

He said as a long-term measure council should introduce an itemised billing system and urgently do away with estimated bills.

But Gweru mayor Josiah Makombe said his council followed all the necessary processes to consult residents on the budget.

He said the local authority increased the budget with a very reasonable percentage which residents should “appreciate.”

“I think all the processes of budget formulation were done and all those with objections were given time to lodge their objections,” he said.

“We did consult all our residents and stakeholders. Check (the budgets) of Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Kwekwe. Gweru residents should appreciate that our budget is very reasonable.”

Some of the key tariff increases include burial fees which will see adult residents forking out US$21 or ZW$1 993 for burial during the week at council cemeteries.

Rentals at council-owned two-roomed houses in Mkoba will go up from ZW$600 to about ZW$1 100 while the occupation certificate fee for home-seekers was raised from ZW$5 000 to ZW$8 050. The beacon relocation fee went up to ZW$14 490 from ZW$9 000.

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