On Tuesday, Bulawayo clerics and council officials met at the Large City Hall during which the city’s finance director Mr Kimpton Ndimande revealed that churches owe the Bulawayo City Council RTGS$2, 7 million in unpaid rates and rentals.
Zimbabwe Christian Ministries Association president Bishop Christopher Choto acknowledged that many churches were defaulting and credited that to the prevailing economic challenges.
He said as a church unison they are encouraging churches to settle and also come up with strategies such as income-generating projects that will help them raise money to clear their bills.
“Churches had a lot of questions concerning allocation of stands, the council’s rules and regulations and many other issues that affect them. One of the major concerns is unfairness on the allocation of church stands.
Some churches feel that stands are being given to a few established churches while upcoming ministries are being side-lined. We’re happy that most of the issues have been clarified,” said Bishop Choto.
“We’re also working with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), which has availed funds to help churches raise money to start projects. We want to move away from the dependency syndrome,” he said.
Speaking during a meeting, Mr Ndimande said the local authority wants to recover money owed by various religious institutions and pleaded with church leaders to settle their dues or approach the city council with payment plans.
“Churches in Bulawayo are owing the city council $2, 7 million and this is a lot of money. We have to work together as council and the church. This is your city and churches have to have an input into how we run it. We have to meet halfway. This means the churches have to do their part and the council also does its part, which is service delivery,” said Mr Ndimande.
The city’s valuer and estate manager, Mr Thabani Ncube, said the high default rate by churches was one of the council’s major challenges.
“One of our challenges is high default rate by churches, non-compliance with terms and conditions of their leases, erection of unauthorised structures among others. We also have a problem of uncontrolled noise by churches, the use of the bush system and self-allocation of stands,” said Mr Ncube.
He said the city council was deluged with applications for stands by churches, with an average of 40 applications being handled per month.
For decades now, Churches have been accused of owing city council huge sums of money.
Council corporate communications manager Michael Chideme told the tabloid last Sunday that the move was necessitated by the huge debt that the churches owe.
“Council will soon publish the names of church organisations whose unpaid rates and lease fees have accumulated over the past few years. The publication of the debtors list will help show which church organisations are using free land and not contributing towards service delivery,” Chideme said.
The council spokesperson said since the last list was published the churches did not even attempt to clear their arrears or make any payment plans.
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