Vic Falls Councillors Boycott Meeting
14 May 2020
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Somvelo Dlamini

VICTORIA Falls councillors yesterday boycotted a meeting which had been called to discuss among other things, crafting a supplementary budget and waiver of some rates to cushion ratepayers in the wake of Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Councillors had scheduled the meeting before Local Government and Public Works Minister reinstated Mayor Councillor Somveli Dlamini on Tuesday. The special full council was set for 2PM.

Clr Dlamini arrived at the municipal offices just before 2PM and left moments later as no other councillors turned up. Municipal management were waiting for councillors in the boardroom. After about 30 minutes of waiting, Town Clerk Mr Ronnie Dube told journalists that “the special full council had been postponed as there was no quorum”.

He could not be drawn to give further details.

The Chronicle could not establish the reason for the boycott as Ward 5 Clr Richard Mguni, who the 10 councillors had elected to replace Clr Dlamini, declined to comment, saying he was in a meeting when contacted.

Sources said the councillors held a secret caucus at an undisclosed venue in the afternoon. The agenda could not be established.

Meanwhile, the councillors had earlier resolved that the municipality should review its $354 million budget for 2020, which is an 800 percent increase from last year’s which was $22 million. A resolution document draft ed by Ward 1 Clr Margaret Valley and seen by this publication called for a waiver of interest on unpaid accounts and suspension of unnecessary spending by the municipality.

“We as councillors of Victoria Falls submit this written motion to urgently craft a supplementary 2020 budget which is to be considered as a crisis budget necessary to cushion our residents and save our town.

“To avert a humanitarian crisis, we need as a municipality to engage all avenues to survive. There is need to create a resilience budget that will ensure that we can still provide service while at the same time not burdening our residents and stakeholders more than they can bear. The budget should take into account both revenue and expenditure, all unnecessary capital expenditure and travel should be suspended, no interest should be charged on overdue accounts, all salaries and wage increases should be frozen,” read the resolutions.

The councillors want the municipality to offer discount on rates and licence fees to lodges, hotels and businesses affected by coronavirus.

“The entire economy of Victoria Falls relies on tourism which is facing a real risk of going bankrupt with borders closed and no flights coming.

“As a council we need to be resilient but at the same time we need to be mindful of what those living in our town are experiencing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The management should revisit the current budget where residents are finding the 800 percent increase in rates, water and licences unaffordable. The situation has now been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic,” read the resolution.

The matter was supposed to be tabled at yesterday’s meeting. This comes as residents have complained about massive tariff hikes where some received water bills of up to $1 000 for the month of April.

Mr Dube said the council had realised a serious decline in revenue as it collected about $2 million for the month of April, which is less than 20 percent of its usual monthly billing of around $15 million.

Usually in other months the local authority collects about 75 percent of the monthly billing, Mr Dube said.

He said the municipality had approached Government seeking a bailout in the wake of Covid-19 and is also engaging stakeholders to come up with alternative sources of revenue.

“The municipality wrote to the Ministry of Local Government on 31 March seeking a financial bailout of $36,3 million for a period of three months. The request was made after realising that council will face financial challenges as a result of Covid-19,” said Mr Dube.

He said the Government was yet to respond. Ratepayers owe the municipality in excess of $54 million as at February 28, 2020.