MUTARE– Battle lines have been drawn between municipal police and vendors who are resisting a recent council decision to charge them United States dollars for market stall rentals.
Vendors registered under the Sakubva Fresh Produce Market said council was adding salt to injury by requesting them to pay in foreign currency when they were still selling their wares in local currency while they also bemoaned reduced trading hours due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Chairman of Sakubva Produce Market Association, Taurai Mukono said council’s unilateral decision to charge in foreign currency was ill advised as reduced market time of three hours was not sufficient to sustain their livelihoods.
Vendors have been paying RTG$23, 00 for trading between 6 am to 9 am in the Chikanga, Hobhouse and Dangamvura markets, this time slot is inadequate for them to generate enough revenue according to Mukono.
“The major problem is that council decided to jus charge us one US dollar per day up from twenty three RTGS without consultation or notice.
“We cannot afford that much, if we calculate with the 3 hours that we operate or even consider our incomes as things stand we cannot afford that.
“We have failed to pay today because we cannot afford that much, at least if they charge anything below fifty RTGS its reasonable considering the way our economy is right now,” he said.
Mukono claimed vendors are paying taxes billed under a Miscellaneous Fund which is not managed transparently, to improve their service conditions or set up proper structures for sanitation and ablution.
“Council is saying that they are going to use force but we cannot also use force against council but we want to dialogue with them.
“We also want to know what those charges are being used for because if one looks at Sakubva market where we were relocated from there is no development, where we are working it is just an open ground,” said Mukono.
A residents association, United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust (UMRRT) said council’s interpretation of the law was flawed as it has effectively dollarized its rates, instead of giving an option of settling bills in US dollars.
UMMRT, programs director Edson Dube castigated the defacto dollarisation of tariffs by the municipality and said it impacted negatively on every sector as residents, largely informally employed, earn and transact in local currency.
“What they have simply done is to peg all tariffs in US dollars and with a ratepayer able to also pay at the current official rate, which is very unrealistic considering that a lot of people do not earn US dollars.
“If council charges are denominated in US dollars, who gets the US dollar? That’s our major problem with this council policy because it strains everyone else, even pensioners who are getting pension in RTGS,” said Dube.
City of Mutare council spokesperson Spren Mutiwi in his response lashed at the vendors for playing to the gallery when they have also effectively adopted US dollar prices at their markets.
Mutiwi said any resistance will be dealt with by the municipal police and the Zimbabwe Republic Police as council was following a government promulgated policy Statutory Instrument 85, in its decisions.
He said council, despite its open door policy, would not tolerate any defiance or resistance from vendors but would welcome any submissions through proper grievance channels.
“We are simply using the law, the traders are selling in US component and we believe there should not be any element of resistance since they are also charging fresh produce in US dollars
“If they have a genuine concern that can be compliant as we engage each other rather than take a militant position seeking a way to review, we are open for any discussion and consideration.”
Mutiwi said council had been charging substandard rates, agreed as a courtesy for traders in light of the economic hardships traders, and this review was only logical.
Recently, council gave notice that it will be accepting bill payments in US dollars for its major levies, tariffs and rates for commercial with immediate effect.
In a notice to residents and customers, City of Mutare advised the public, its clients and stakeholders that it is accepting payments in US dollars or equivalent in the ZWL local currency at prevailing official (RBZ) rates, due 1st of October.