Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has urged people to “stop paying council rates” if they are not happy with the services provided by local authorities, but an advocacy group has told him to stop politicking and deliver services. 

According to independent newspaper NewsDay, in an address at a poorly attended gathering of Zanu-PF supporters in Harare over the weekend Chiwenga said local authorities should stop collecting rates from areas where services had failed.

The council accused ratepayers of owing $600m, which it said was constraining service delivery. 

“There is no water, council has failed to collect refuse and there is no sewer reticulation, but daily, they come knocking on your doors demanding payment for things they have failed to deliver. That must stop forthwith,” Chiwenga was quoted as saying.

But according to an advocacy water group, Chiwenga’s remarks were just slogans uttered by another politician to gain political points as the country heads towards an election later this month.  

In an interview with News24, programmes manager at Community Water Alliance Hardlife Mudzingwa said the government should instead “assume that debt and pay on behalf of citizens if they are serious”.

‘Populism will kill service delivery’

He said the local authorities were in dire need of funds which had been cut by the national government for the past ten years. 

“The statement by General Chiwenga is a slogan that will not improve water delivery. In 2013 the Zanu-PF government froze all receivables (debt owed to City of Harare) while the national budget for Harare stands at 0%. No money from the national budget has ever been allocated to City of Harare as a local authority and this has been the case for the past 10 years,” said Mudzingwa. 

He added that the vice president’s comments were a “reckless” political statement whose populism would kill “service delivery”.

According to an AFP report, Zimbabwe’s long-standing water supply problems worsened last year after a severe drought ravaged the southern African region the previous year.

Taps in large parts of the country, including Harare, ran dry for several days a week as part of government-imposed restrictions.

In suburbs around Bulawayo, the country’s second city, scenes of people carrying 20-litre buckets of water on their heads or pushing wheelbarrows laden with water drums from mobile tankers were a daily occurrence.

Although authorities prohibited the private selling of water, the ban did little to discourage the business.

Poor and desperate residents forked out between $0.50 and $1 for a 20-litre bucket of water sold by illegal water dealers. 

“If Chiwenga is sincere he should push for a debt assumption bill for local authorities in the same way they did with farmers. Command system in resolving debts and grievances will not work and the earlier the command element realises this, the better. Local authorities need money to function,” Mudzingwa told News24.  

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