Council must consider meeting residents halfway on top-ups

Source: Council must consider meeting residents halfway on top-ups | Sunday News (Opinion)

THE Bulawayo City Council recently directed that all housing stands beneficiaries who had developers abandon their projects without completing servicing the stands will have to pay top-ups for the cost of the remaining works in foreign currency.

Bulawayo City Council

Council said beneficiaries are set to fund the refurbishment of in-house plant and equipment and the procurement of materials, with some of the beneficiaries to pay top-ups ranging from US$1 151 to US$3 400. 

This came after more than 3 000 stands that were being developed by private developers were left unfinished with the local authority forced to take legal action to resolve the impasse.

Some of the projects affected included Emganwini 367 stands, Tshabalala (44), Magwegwe West (390), Woodville (144) and Emhlangeni Phase Two (502).

The projects were left in limbo after contractors demanded to be paid in foreign currency, citing erosion of the local currency. Council was unable to meet the forex demands, as the majority of ratepayers and even stand beneficiaries paid in local currency.

Nonetheless, there is nothing wrong with making payments in local currency, and council was also within the law to refuse to pay contractors exclusively in foreign currency.

However, what we note is that council has chosen the easy way out of the situation.

Council has chosen to invoke Clause 10, which is part of the terms of selling the stands, which gives council the power to demand top-ups from buyers in the event of escalation of servicing costs due to inflation.

While that is within the law, we feel council must not be seen to be pushing all the costs to those who bought stands, simply because residents are also affected by the economic environment that is affecting council operations. 

In this case, the seller (council) and the buyer must somehow, share the escalating costs.

The top-ups surely cannot be a burden of those who bought the stands alone.

Had council moved swiftly with their preferred contractors and serviced the stands, the situation would certainly be different now.

And evidence is there, judging by the differences in terms of top-ups that are being demanded from one area to another, based on the scope of work to be done to complete the projects. 

And rightfully so, some residents feel they are not at fault, especially those who paid in full within the agreed time frame, but for the sake of progress, top-ups are unavoidable.

What remains to be seen is whether council will consider a human face, and meet residents halfway, instead of piling all the costs on them, as has been the case, from deliberations made by council and representatives of stand buyers. 

According to a council report, assistant Director of Engineering Services (Roads) Mr Methusi Dibidi said some beneficiaries of the housing stands had agreed to pay the top-ups.

“He explained that because of inflation and price escalation, it was agreed that the beneficiaries be engaged and be advised of the cost to be shared in order to have a way forward.

They (stand owners) were engaged and were willing to pay for the servicing costs, however, further consultations would be held to avoid short comings.

The beneficiaries had requested to be granted a rates holiday for a year.

The City Legal Officer (Mrs Spekiwe Guta) advised that the economy had equally affected both council and the beneficiaries hence the need for beneficiaries to meet the servicing costs.

The Town Clerk (Mr Christopher Dube) concurred that both parties had been affected by the current economic situation and beneficiaries would meet Council half way and finance some of the servicing costs,” reads the report.

The council report, with blessings from councillors, who are there to serve interests of both the council as an institution and residents as stakeholders, speaks of the Town Clerk and other officials proposing that beneficiaries meet council half way to cover the costs.

However, it would appear all the costs have been dumped on beneficiaries, which is something that council has to consider having a relook at.

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