GWERU – Pensioners and senior citizens have forced the Gweru City Council to accept part payment for their debts after rejecting the local authority’s “unreasonable” payment plans.
Gweru has been trying to force residents to enter into payment plans where they pay, monthly, fixed amounts calculated by the local authority to clear their debts.
The city was not accepting lower payments, which the Gweru Residents and Rate Payers Association (GRRA) said was self-defeating for the local authority which is owed $50 million by residents.
GRRA has over the last week mobilised senior citizens and pensioners in Mkoba to “protest-pay” their council arrears.
Nearly 200 residents, mostly pensioners and senior citizens, flocked to the Mkoba 6 municipal revenue hall to reduce their arrears.
“Payment plans are a good thing, we agreed as members of GRRA to make the plans. There’s a problem, however. We have old people with arrears of up to $2,000 and they’re not working so for them set, regular payments can be difficult to keep up,” said 72-year-old Arthur Chikwadzi, who has a debt of $1,600.
“The best solution for our council to develop is to collect the little that people have whenever they bring it, like we have done today.”
The council is said to be demanding “unrealistic and unaffordable” amounts through payment plans which, as a result, have seen many residents being prevented from paying.
One resident who declined to be named said she was being made to pay $105 monthly by the council through the payment plans, yet she was struggling just to pay her current monthly charges which average $31.
“The first time I went to council without a payment plan they refused to take the $50 that I had because I had arrears of more than $1,800 and they demanded a down payment by half,” she told ZimLive.
“So, I was forced to make a payment plan and after they did their calculations they demanded $74 monthly to pay the arrears plus my current charges which are around $31. So I am supposed to pay $105 every month.”
Shepherd Takaendesa, another senior citizen, said council was refusing to accept the little he had and he would spend the money on other things.
“I remember the last time I tried to pay when my bill was still around $200, they refused my $20 that I had and so I went and bought beer with the money instead,” he said.
On the first day of the “protest-pay” organised for October 31, the council offices were overwhelmed and some of the residents ended up complaining of the slow service by the local authority with just one teller serving.
GRRA President Cornelia Selipiwe said the move to mobilise residents was a way of showing council that residents are willing to pay despite the economic challenges, and they will continue with the monthly mobilisations until the council appreciates the residents’ efforts.
“These are residents who tried to go and make payment plans at council offices but they failed and most who have come are old people who are getting money from NSSA, people who cannot meet the figures that council is demanding,” Selipiwe said.
“So, we as a residents’ association have encouraged them to come with the little they have so that council can at least boost their revenue collections and provide services, and at the same time these residents reducing their arrears.”
Gweruy is currently owed almost $60 million by residents and ratepayers. The council owes $50 million to its own service providers.
Gweru Town Clerk Elizabeth Gwatipedza, in one of the budget review meeting held last month, encouraged residents to own up their arrears saying discounts that some have been clamouring for, after seeing other cities offering them, would not be contemplated in Gweru.