from DANIEL JONES in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
VICTORIA FALLS, (CAJ News) – RESIDENTS in the Zimbabwean resort city of Victoria Falls are defaulting on paying for services, resulting in unpaid bills ballooning to more than ZWL$200 million (US$620 000).
This is blamed on the COVID-19’s impact on livelihoods.
Besides impacting on service delivery, the setback is hampering the establishment of the US$250 million civic centre.
Somvelo Dlamini, the Victoria Falls mayor, said monthly revenue collections had declined significantly since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year.
Zimbabwe has since been in lockdown. Victoria Falls is bearing the brunt as tourism, which is its cash cow, has been impacted.
“COVID-19 has really affected us as a council. Our collections are very low because tourism business is down,” the mayor said.
Dlamini said the council was collecting “less than a quarter” of what they collected before the pandemic.
“We hope that now that business is beginning to show signs of picking up, probably people might go back to work and start paying bills,” said the mayor.
The council’s budget for 2021 was about ZWL$1,3 billion.
Before COVID-19, the city would collect two-thirds of its annual budget projections.
Victoria Falls depends on rates as a major revenue source.
About 90 percent of Victoria Falls’ 109 660 residents were directly or indirectly employed in the tourism industry.
Hotels and lodges have also been struggling to pay overhead costs due to lack of business.
The city authorities have been encouraged to be innovative and invest in other projects than merely relying on rates.
Meanwhile, Dlamini maintained plans are underway to construct the civic centre despite the shortfalls.
It is anticipated to be in the model of the Mandela Square in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Authorities believe it will be a major source of revenue for the city.
Meeting halls, a five-star hotel, a shopping mall with restaurants and a theme park are planned for the facility.
Victoria Falls was in 2015 declared a Special Economic Zone with special focus on tourism as the national government makes efforts to widen the city’s economic base.
A foreign currency bourse, the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFSE), was opened last year.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared Victoria Falls a World Heritage Site in 1989, ten years before the town was granted municipal status.
Government elevated Victoria Falls from municipality to city in 2020.
It is the eighth city in Zimbabwe after the capital Harare, second city Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Kwekwe, Masvingo and Kadoma.
– CAJ News