On 7 May 2020 UCAZ held a Special Presidential Committee meeting at the UCAZ offices. The media was invited for a briefing by the UCAZ President Clr Josiah Makombe who is also the Mayor of Gweru on the efforts being made by urban local authorities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is the statement prepared for the media.

Shrinking revenue

During the lockdown period which started on 30 March 2020 all business were closed down including municipal banking halls. Despite repeated appeals published in newspapers and social media and flighted on radio and television, urging ratepayers to pay their bills via mobile network payment platforms, few have heeded the call. This has resulted in diminished revenue inflows into councils’ coffers. As a result, service provision has been heavily affected because local authorities need to procure goods and services from suppliers in order to provide a service. For example, we need to pay for electricity, water treatment chemicals, repair burst water and sewer pipes, procure fuel, purchase medical supplies as well as disinfectants. Without funding from ratepayers for whom these services are provided, it becomes difficult to provide them. The services most affected are water supply, wastewater and solid waste management and primary and secondary health care. We appeal to our residents to pay their bills because this is in their best interest.

Local authorities have established quarantine centres for suspected COVID-19 cases and there is need to provide water and testing kits to test those quarantined. These come at a huge cost.

Government support to local authorities

Because of the dwindling revenues, local authorities are now hamstrung financially. We cannot fight this war on our own without support from central government. In fact, everything that we do we are doing it on behalf of government under the principle of subsidiarity. Local authorities will inevitably accrue salary arrears and other debts owing to suppliers due to the lockdown. We therefore appeal to government to provide financial support if we are to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disinfecting and clean-up of public spaces

During the lockdown period we have managed to disinfect all public spaces and we continue to do so with the help of development partners and the corporate world who have been providing us with disinfectants. We appreciate them for the assistance and urge them to continue assisting us until we defeat this deadly pandemic.

As local authorities we have demolished illegal vending structures which were erected on roadsides and around shopping centres in order to recreate open spaces and restore the ambience of our towns and cities. Bearing in mind that the vendors still need to eke out a living, we have provided them with temporary spaces to operate from.   We appeal to those affected to bear with us as this is being done in the best interest of the public in order to save lives.

Challenges facing local authorities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

Local authorities’ major challenges are lack of funding and low capacity to test for COVID-19. Water treatment chemicals are running out and the exorbitant prices are a major stumbling block as they are being pegged against the United States dollar. We urge ratepayers to use mobile network payment platforms being provided by their respective local authorities in the media to pay their bills in the comfort of their homes.

Be safe

Meanwhile, be safe, wash your hands frequently with running water and soap, wear a mask, protect your mouth and nose with a cloth or the inside of the elbow when sneezing, do not touch your face and do not move around unnecessarily, maintain social distancing of at least one meter from others. Follow all the guidelines being given by health authorities where there is more advice. Together we can conquer the COVID-19 pandemic.