14 September 2017

Zimbabwe: President Bails Out Chitungwiza

President Mugabe has evoked Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) to stay the attachment and sale in execution of Chitungwiza Municipality's property and avoid exposing over 354 000 residents to health risks due to poor service delivery.

Chitungwiza recently lost property to creditors who went to court in a bid to recover their funds. The protection of the town's property by President Mugabe came as Government yesterday announced the suspension of Chitungwiza town clerk Mr George Makunde, who now faces disciplinary action. A caretaker council led by Mr Madzudzo Pawadyira is running the affairs of Chitungwiza.

In an extraordinary Gazette published yesterday, President Mugabe invoked the Presidential Powers [Temporary Measures][Extension of State Liabilities Act to the Assets of Chitungwiza Municipality] Regulations, 2017, to protect the council assets.

This comes after the High Court last week gave a green light for council property to be auctioned over spiralling debts. Council owes various creditors over $66 million, against an annual budget of less than $30 million.

The Statutory instrument notes that if a situation affecting, for instance the general public of Zimbabwe cannot be dealt with adequately in terms of any law and, because of its urgency, it is inexpedient to await for the passage through Parliament of an Act to deal with it.

The President is then empowered in terms of Section 2 of the Presidential Powers [Temporary Measures] [Chapter 20:10] to make such regulations as he considers will deal with the situation.

In Chitungwiza's case, a situation had arisen following the court ruling which led to the attachment of council property, exposing resident to health risks. According to the Statutory Instrument, the attached assets included vehicles, equipment used for refuse collection, repairing sewer blockages and burst pipes, fire fighting and prevention, road maintenance and other assets essential for the delivery of basic service to the residents.

"And whereas the inability to provide the aforesaid services in consequence of attachment is likely to expose the residents of the municipality to catastrophic health risks resulting from uncollected refuse, sewer blockages and interrupted water supply from burst pipes," reads the gazette.

"... it is estimated that the lives of over 354 000 residents are at the immediate risk of contracting diseases such dysentery, typhoid and cholera unless immediate action be taken to prevent any such outbreak."

Addressing a press conference last night, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said the rampant disregard of good governance at Chitungwiza Municipality had reached a stage where national intervention was required.

"His Excellency has since intervened by invoking the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) to protect the assets of Chitungwiza residents and from associated health risks," said Minister Kasukuwere. "To that end, Statutory Instrument 110 of 2017 has been gazetted."

Minister Kasukuwere said a decision was also taken to suspend Mr Makunde. "He was served with suspension today (yesterday), by the caretaker council," he said. "He will appear before a disciplinary committee and the matter will be taken to its logical conclusion." Minister Kasukuwere was happy that the caretaker council had moved in and established itself without much ado.

He said it was in touch with the situation on the ground. "Sadly, the legacy that it has inherited is one of administrative and financial chaos and efforts to bring about change have been resisted by the workers at various levels, thereby hindering and, in some cases, thwarting progress," he said. "In addition, the residents of Chitungwiza have lost faith in the council and are no longer contributing financially."

Last month, the Sheriff of the High Court attached and removed at least seven top-of-the-range council vehicles and cleared all the local authority's head office of all furniture over a $600 000 outstanding debt.

The debt arose after Chitungwiza sold stands to Metropolitan Bank in 2007 in Nyatsime. The bank later realised that the allocation was chaotic since other people had been allocated the same piece of land.

Metbank paid $1 027 000 for 63 000 square metres of land, but the stands were never properly allocated.

Chitungwiza repaid party of the debt, leaving an outstanding balance of $600 000.

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