By Thembeka Khumalo:
Blantyre City Council (BCC) officials Monday closed down eight buildings in the Central Business District (CBD) in an ongoing exercise that is targeting 700-plus buildings that are being accused of defaulting on ground and city rates amounting to over K2 billion.
So far, council officials have closed down Malawi Health Sciences building, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS) Sports Complex, Phalombe House, CSC House, Globe House, Agma House and Airtel Malawi complex.
BCC Mayor Wild Ndipo said the exercise—which involved BCC councillors storming the suspected premises and evacuating occupants—is a form of enforcement which comes after calls for city rates are ignored.
He said, through the action, they hoped to recoup funds stuck in ground and city rates.
While Ndipo could not disclose the total amount residents owe the council, one councillor told The Daily Times that the money was in access of K2 billion.
The same problem is affecting Lilongwe City Council, with its chief executive officer (CEO) telling The Daily Times that residents owe the council K9 billion.
Mzuzu City Council executives have also been crying foul, claiming that residents owe the council over K1 billion.
“We have summoned these companies for some time but, for some reason, they refuse to pay. As such, we decided to close their business premises as they rely on services provided by the city council. The services include waste collection, city cleaners, among other things,” Ndipo said.
He said it was important that rates be paid for the city to ably carry out its day-to-day business, which is often put on hold as they do not have funds for operations due to, among other reasons, unpaid rates.
“The money we use to ensure service delivery runs smoothly, garbage collection [is done], cars are fuelled, wages are paid, among other things, is affected when rates are not paid,” he said.
Besides closing down businesses, council officials said they would also be visiting residential areas to force people to pay rates.
During the exercise, BCC councillors stormed into buildings, demanding that owners of individual shops in the buildings evacuate as they would close down the shops. This was no easy task, as some shop owners were screaming at councillors before leaving premises.
In some instances, owners of buildings brought forth documents that proved that they settled city rates arrears.
In Lilongwe, CEO John Chome said they have been working hard to get back over K9 billion that markets and businesses owe the council. He said, so far, they have collected K2.9 billion.
“We have been exercising our mandate to close down businesses that have not paid their city rates and property taxes on time. We have also seized and auctioned businesses that have not paid their rates in three years as the law mandates,” he said.
Mzuzu City Council CEO Gome Nyasulu said they have also closed down market stalls of people that have not paid rates.
“We are now moving towards acting on business property rates that have not yet been paid,” he said.