New farmers cripple rural council operations

Blessing Zulu

SERVICE delivery in rura1 district councils (RDCs) has ground to a halt as new farmers have failed to pay rates and taxes to fund local authorities’ operations, it has emerged.


Before the fast track resettlement exercise three years ago, commercial farmers contributed large amounts in rates and taxes to the coffers of the RDCs. Commercial farmers also helped to maintain roads and other infrastructure.


New landowners have not started to pay tax while the government has refused to give local authorities grants.


Councillors attending the fourth biennial congress of the Association of Rural District Councils (ARDC) in Masvingo earlier this month appealed to the Ministry of Local Government for help. The councillors complained that their allowances were minimal.


“We are being paid as little as $90,” said one councillor from Mashonaland Central.


“The government has refused to give us allowances arguing that we have to engage in income-generating projects. This is not possible because we cannot compete with our ratepayers and taxpayers,” he said.


The non-payment of levies and taxes by the new farmers is affecting the operations of the 58 RDCs throughout the country.


Chairman of the ARDC Jerry Gotora said there was no going back on demanding what councils were owed.


“We will attach the property (agricultural implements) of any defaulters,” said Gotora.


“The property will then be sold if the payments are not settled. It is clear that farmers do not want their properties to end up this way and we hope they will pay,” he said.


Gotora said they expected to raise more money because the number of farmers had increased as a result of resettlement.


He accused the Ministry of Agriculture of being a stumbling block in the collection of taxes.


“We need the ministry to supply us with the exact number of people who have been resettled for easy collection of levies and taxes. It is this absence of correct figures that is causing problems,” said Gotora.


The government continues to issue conflicting figures on the number of people who have benefited from the land reform exercise. The official figure is 300 000 under the Model A1 scheme but this was recently interpreted to mean households.


The farmers are required to pay unit tax to their district councils and some local authorities have started collecting the money. Those settled under the A1 scheme are required to pay levies


Gotora said the taxes and levies would be used for development projects such as the construction of roads, clinics and schools.


The government has passed the buck to the new farmers after failing to fund the land reform exercise which has also been shunned by the international donor community.