BCC abandons property auctions

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THE Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has abandoned its confrontational approach towards recovering over $170 million owed by residents, in favour of a conciliatory approach where payment plans are made.

BCC, which had proposed auctioning properties belonging to over 400 residents last year due to delays in paying for services, has come up with a carrot-and-stick approach whereby those that sign up for payment plans are spared interest rates and being handed over to debt collectors.

Under the new scheme, residents who fail to make payment plans will remain subject to paying interest rates and the possibility of lawsuits. BCC town clerk Christopher Dube said: “In view of the difficult economic environment, the City of Bulawayo has taken the initiative to alleviate the plight of its various communities, both domestic and non-domestic in so far as meeting their financial obligations for municipal services.

“It is accordingly proposed as follows; council enters into arrangements with interested consumers where council will park the overdue debt and encourage payment of all current charges and installments towards the parked debt religiously over an agreed period.

“Consumers will be expected to commit to pay their current bill plus a portion of the arrears over an agreed period. Consumer accounts with arrangements that are honoured will not be disconnected or subject to any debt recovery measures such as litigation.

“Once consumers have entered into the payment plan, accounts become interest free, subject to further review. Interest will be maintained on accounts where there is no agreement. In cases where there has been breach of agreement, interest will be reinstated.”

Municipalities across the country are owed huge sums of money by residents who are struggling to make-ends-meet due to economic challenges. Harare residents have also reportedly had their properties sold due to non-payment, particularly in Mbare and Mabvuku. Similarly, over 100 tenants living in Harare City’s rented properties in Highfield and Glen Norah, were evicted over debts amounting to more than $10 million.

Council says residents in Highfield owe $6 million while those in Glen Norah owe over $5 million. Overall, Harare City says it is owed over $600 million by residents in unpaid bills. In Gweru, the municipality was swooping on properties for 53 companies including the manufacturing sector and schools that reportedly owe them over $18 million.

Over 1 800 Bulawayo residents were last year served with civil summons over debts. From that number, BCC got 485 writs of execution following 677 default judgments against residents that did not respond to summons within the specified period.

It is understood that residents owe BCC over $88 million while industry and commerce are in arrears to the tune of $58 million. The debt by residents dates back to 2013 when their arrears were scrapped by Government. There were concerns by local authorities that residents have not been settling their dues in anticipation of another debt write-off this year as the country moves towards harmonised elections.

This has seen both rural and urban councils running campaigns with a view to persuading debtors to pay up their obligations. Government departments and parastatals are believed to be owing upwards of $6 million. The debts date back to 2009 when the country dumped the local currency in favour of the stable foreign currencies such as the United States dollar, the Euro, British pound, South African rand, and Botswana pula, among others.–herald

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