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Donors stop paying council utility bills

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Development partners under the Health Services Joint Fund have stopped paying utility bills for district health offices, effective July 1 2021.

A circular from the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) to district commissioners advises that district budgets should fully account for anticipated bills in the upcoming financial years.

“Following earlier communication this financial year from the Secretary for Health on the status support for the payment of utility bills for district health offices under the Health Services Joint Fund, please be informed that from the 2021-2022 financial year, donors will no longer support payment of utility bills.

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“You are therefore advised to kindly ensure that the district budget fully accounts for the anticipated utility bills in the upcoming years,” the circular reads.

This comes at a time some government departments and agencies are struggling to pay their utility bills,

Last year, for example, Chintheche Community Hospital ran for 12 days without water after the Northern Region Water Board disconnected water due to outstanding bills amounting to K48 million.

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Chikwawa District Commissioner Ali Phiri described the situation as regrettable.

“The reason we asked for the fund, in the first place, is that we were failing to meet utility bill costs. We have only been able to pay current bills and not those in arrears. This is why you have been hearing that councils are looking for bailout packages. Now, removing the fund is a setback and I don’t know what will happen,” he said.

Health rights expert George Jobe said public healthcare service providers would be hit hard.

NLGFC spokesperson Hamilton Chimala confirmed the development.

“Many reasons can be accrued to this, among them donor fatigue. This means that local governments – councils— will have to utilise their government resource allocation and other means. Other means include locally generated revenue and other donors,” Chimala said.

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