The Covid 19 pandemic is observably sending unprecedented adverse ripple-effect shocks to all sectors of the global economy. Hard-hit in these times is tourism centred economies and cities. Individuals, households and companies crumb overnight to the burdens of daily and monthly financial obligations due to curfews and prohibitive laws barring the hosting of visitors.
The pandemic’s resilience continues to induce problems for the second year running, casting Local Authorities into a cluster of unaccountable and non-performing entities leading to residents and stakeholders losing faith in them.
The uncertainty stems from the fact that households are finding it to cope under the circumstances, thereby looking for support from Local Authorities, who rely on their support.
Victoria Falls is no exception to these difficulties as many of its residents are directly or indirectly operating at minimal or closed in the tourism industry. The discomfort among residents started last year when the pandemic was first recorded in the resort town, followed by several lockdowns leading to tourism facilities that included hotels, eating houses, and market closing.
The City of Victoria Falls 2020 budget did not perform well with an income deficit of $43,002.21 which was not collected as lockdowns forced people to stay at home, and the wall of cries started rising at every level of the community.
It comes as no surprise that after the approval of the ZWL$1,276,308,095.00, 2021 budget, an echo of cries grew louder as people continued staying at home due to the persistence of the pandemic.
The City of Victoria Falls finds itself between a rock and hard surface where there is an increasing demand for quality services by residents, while low revenue inflows are coming in against the raw material price tide (electricity charges, fuel price, water chemicals) that has eroded prevailing rates in the budget.
That being the case, Council finds itself with a burden to engage in other budget consultative meetings to strike a balance between meeting the needs of jobless residents and the call to provide seamless services.
The war to strike that balance is seemingly tricky because Council has no alternative funding, but the cries from residents are unending.
The Local Authority had adopted a conservative but futurist approach to the budget and is adamant that reducing it will reduce the quality of services that will compromise the destination standards when tourism resumes.
Moreover, the City Fathers are afraid that if there is no proper provision of services, they might be opening a door for other opportunistic diseases to infiltrate the City, thereby making it an undesirable destination to visit or invest in.
Victoria Falls Mayor Councilor Somveli Dhlamini indicated that the Local Authority had been mindful of the plight of the people whose economic activities were disrupted by the Covid 19 pandemic, hence the unfortunate position of settling for a supplementary budget that is meant to review a couple of disputed tariffs.
“Council had predicted good fortunes for the economy of Victoria Falls before the second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic, which took us back to a series of lockdowns.
“Consequently, most of our people are unable to pay their bills in time. This affects Council’s ability to provide services, and it has got the same effects as the reduction of some tariffs because it unilaterally reduces the Local Authority’s ability to collect adequate resources to fund the desired services and products.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves with a communique from our parent ministry indicating that we have to engage in the formulation of a supplementary budget for the identified tariffs,” highlighted Dhlamini.
City Council Treasurer Nerville Ndlovu urged residents to make sure they continue making efforts to pay for their bills to allow a smooth delivery of essential services.
“The economy is expected to register modest growth this year after two years of successive decline when currency changes, high inflation, extreme weather conditions and Covid-19 pandemic downturn wrecked the local business environment.
“The Government expects the economy to grow by 7.4 % (up from the 4.1% decline in 2020) buoyed by the good yields in the agriculture sector, stable energy supply, and resilience from mineral and tobacco export. The current economic stability and partial dollarisation environment have been key in re-establishing the local credit market with bank increasing lending in foreign currency and realising better revenues even in inflation-adjusted terms,” added Ndlovu.
Council held a virtual all stakeholders meeting which paved the way for the advertising of the tariffs.
It remains a tough call for the Local Authority to recover a ballooning ZWL$349,173,327.81 from its clients and at the same time continue to provide essential daily services!