BY MOSES MATENGA/BRENNA MATENDERE
A letter by Local Government minister July Moyo directing the Harare City Council to pay the state-linked Chemplex a staggering $78 million for water treatment chemicals has sent tongues wagging with city fathers questioning his interest in the deal.
Moyo last year ordered Harare to source all its water treatment chemicals through Chemplex.
The local authority, however, has been struggling to pay for the chemicals because the minister is yet to approve the city’s budget for 2020, which means council is still charging last year’s rates.
In a letter dated January 21, 2020, Moyo ordered council to settle the Chemplex debt without fail and blocked the local authority from engaging alternative water treatment chemicals suppliers.
“I am gravely concerned that despite requesting you to improve the management of the water account so that Harare would not fall behind with the payment for water treatment chemicals, your council has accumulated a debt of $78 million with Chemplex Corporation, which is your prime chemical supplier,” reads Moyo’s letter obtained by The Standard.
“I am further concerned that your officials are asking to be permitted to purchase chemicals from other suppliers instead of simply paying the Chemplex account.
“As stated previously, the non-payment of a debt to Chemplex Corporation has an impact on all other water authorities in Zimbabwe who purchase their chemicals from Chemplex.”
Moyo said of interest was that most councils were purchasing their chemicals on cash basis yet Harare was failing to pay.
“In line of this, I hereby order you in terms of the Urban Councils Act, to immediately negotiate a payment plan with Chemplex that will cover the clearing of arrears and allow for the continued supply of the current chemical needs,” he added.
“ You are to submit details of the payment plan to me before the end of this week and, thereafter, I will require a weekly update on the progress made to adhere to the payment plan.”
Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said the local authority was struggling financially and had agreed a payment plan with Chemplex.
“Yes, I can confirm we owe Chemplex. We have done a payment arrangement with them.
“We are failing to pay at once because of cashflow problems,” he said.
“We are owed in excess of $900 million by our customers. More so, our 2020 budget is yet to be approved.
“We are still charging 2019 rates fees, which are way below market rates.”
The Zanu PF party, where Moyo is a politburo member, is failing to pay more than $1.2 million owed to Harare while government also owes the local authority millions of dollars.
State-owned entities such as the National Social Security Authority, National Railways of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, among others are also failing to pay their debts to council, but Moyo has not intervened, council officials said.
The city is owed more than $1 billion by government, residents and businesses.
Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum chairman Marvellous Khumalo said Moyo’s letter showed that government was interfering in the affairs of local authorities.
“Devolution will remove all this undue interference by central government in running of local affairs of local authorities,” he said.
“The tone of the letter does not show a central government that is committed to implementing devolution and it shows that the minister or central government has vested interests in this company called Chemplex.
“We then wonder what those interests are, who owns Chemplex and we become suspicious.”
MDC local government deputy secretary Clifford Hlatshwayo said they were shocked by Moyo’s letter.
“They are not clear on what is their intention, but this is interference in day-to-day running of local authorities,” he said.
“We do not expect that from a whole minister to direct council to make a payment, that is an administrative role and it is up to the city of Harare to see how much they have in coffers and that is interference and we do not encourage that,” he said.
“We have been very clear that this move is meant to take ratepayers’ money.
“That is corruption to force council to buy from Chemplex. They must do due diligence and that was not done.”
Kudzanai Kadzombe, the chairperson of Harare council’s environment committee, said Moyo must first approve the local authority’s budget before trying to force it to pay debts.
“The challenge is we are being forced to act in this manner with the old budget,” Kadzombe said.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa last week bemoaned government’s interference in the affairs of local authorities that are being run by his party.