GWERU mayor Martin Chivhoko has decried huge unpaid bills for water and sewer reticulation services by various government departments in the city, which he says has severely affected the local authority’s capacity to deliver important services and fulfill key obligations such as clearing the workers’ salary backlog.
Council workers went to the festive season without receiving their December salaries. Morale is low among the workers.
Chivhoko told The NewsHawks the crisis can be largely attributed to government departments’ failure to pay municipal bills.
Government institutions receive annual funds from Treasury to operate and settle all their expenses, which raises questions on transparency and accountability when they fail to pay bills.
“The total owed by government departments is ZW$7.7 billion dollars (US$1.1 million). The debt has affected Gweru City Council cashflows and has resulted in the city being crippled in the provision of services. Government is a major client as it has facilities all over the city and the facilities are heavy consumers, meaning failure to pay definitely results in those facilities being subsidised from the meagre resources available,” he said.
The mayor added that in the absence of a viable industry after the closure of many companies in the country’s third-largest city, government departments have become council’s biggest clients.
“It is also good to note that the major corporates from industry and commerce who used to be the backbone of our local economy are now closed and, as such, government becomes the anchor client in our value chain, therefore such failure to pay for services rendered automatically puts council on a back foot,” he said.
“The Gweru Central Cemetery is adjacent to the heavy industrial area and there is a popular saying in the city that the graveyard has been ‘extended’.
This is because several of the major companies that used to breathe life into the “City of Progress” are now “dead and buried” because of the country’s protracted economic implosion.
The big companies that shut down in Gweru and used to be cashcows for the city council include ZimGlass, ZimCast, David Whitehead, Radar Castings, Kariba Batteries and Anchor Yeast.
Dairibord and Bata Shoe company, although still operating, have significantly down sized, with the latter last November retrenching 106 workers, a sign it is struggling to remain afloat.
Chivhoko said the city council has since resolved to initiate dialogue with the government institutions over unpaid bills as most of them say they are awaiting money from Treasury.
“In terms of measures taken, we are in dialogue with most of the government departments to see how they can bridge the gap by honouring these obligations. We are one government and obviously we would pursue dialogue as much as possible rather than acrimony. We expect therefore cooperation and payment as soon as they receive promised funding from ministry of Finance as they told us,” he said.
Residents and private businesses are also struggling due to economic hardships, leaving the local authority in a difficult situation.
As of 31 December 2023, residents owed Gweru council ZW$26 billion (US$3.4 million) while industry and commerce entities had unpaid bills of ZW$37.3 billion (US$5 million).
In November last year the council visited 394 business entities in the city to check their standing regarding dues to the local authority and ended up closing 187 of them after noticing that they had accrued astronomical bills.
One of the major business enterprises closed by council in the central business district was HAJEE Ismail Bahadur Centre, a one-storey complex renting out operating space to over 100 entrepreneurs who are into electrical shops, beauty saloons, clothing boutiques as well as others trading in contraband similar to what happened at the now defunct Ximex Mall in Harare.
Bahadur Centre in Gweru owed the city council ZW$60 million (US$8 000).