MASVINGO City Council’s bid to recover more than $50 million in outstanding water debt from residents has hit a brick wall after the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) turned down its application to engage a legal firm for debt collection.
This has given rate defaulters a lifeline, at least for now , as the development will make it impossible for the local authority to unleash debt collectors.
Acting town clerk Edward Mukaratirwa (pictured) confirmed this to Open Council saying as it is, council could not implement debt collection as previously planned.
He said two attempts to appoint legal firms to handle debt collection have not been successful after PRAZ raised concern on glaring gaps in the two applications.
He however, said defaulting ratepayers who had already received communication over debt collection decision are still liable and should abide by the summons.
He said they had a contract with Makause and Saratoga Law Chambers, which acted as council’s legal counsel and it is under this agreement that the summons were served.
“It is true that we have stopped from hiring legal firms to handle debt collection task,” said Mukaratirwa.
“PRAZ has turned down our two applications citing issues they said were not addressed in the requests. This means we cannot engage debt collectors to recover $50, 375, 148.35 we are owed by defaulting ratepayers, as previously planned, at least for now,” he said.
He said there was still room to make another application provided the gaps were addressed.
“While PRAZ has made it decision we still encourage defaulting ratepayers to make efforts to repay their debts.
“The new development does not mean that the debts have been cancelled. We still need that money for our service delivery and ratepayers should honour their outstanding debts and pay.
“The debt includes both residents and institutions with the latter contributing more than 75 percent of the arrears,” he said.
Residents have welcomed the decision taken by PRAZ saying, it gives them an opportunity to pay at a “normal pace”.
“We welcome the PRAZ decision as it gives residents ample time to clear their debts. We are aware that they owe our council but the debts have accumulated due to obtaining economic hardship.
“Our residents are not ignorant of their obligation to pay for utility bills,” said Godfrey Mutimba who is Masvingo United ratepayers and Residents Alliance (MURRA) spokesperson.