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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Parastatal madness, 5th Edition

An interesting exchange in Parliament over renting of council buildings by Government, reveals another variant of “parastatal madness”. This time its not ZAMTEL or ZESCO owed billions, it is local authorities who are owed substantial amounts, rendering them virtually broke and ineffective by central government. Is it any wonder that many local roads are full of potholes or many of our areas lack essential services that would normally be delivered by local authorities? In developed countries, councils owe central government money, in our nation it is the other way round. I remain convinced that the problem is not lack of decentralisation, but lack of effective enforcement of existing debt obligations in our judicial system. The councils have money and probably the capacity to deliver their priorities, but are hindered by a central government that fails to honour legally binding contracts.
Mr Mweemba (Magoye) asked the Minister of Local Government and Housing:
  • (a) How many council buildings were being rented by Government ministries in the following towns: (i) Livingstone; (ii) Lusaka; (iii) Ndola; and (iv) Kitwe; and
  • (b) How much money, in rentals, was owed by the Government to the councils in the towns at (a) above from 2005 to-date.
Dr Puma : Madam Speaker, I wish to inform this August House that according to the information we have, there are no properties rented by government ministries in Livingstone, Kitwe and Ndola towns. However, there are thirteen properties rented by government ministries in Lusaka. To-date, Lusaka City Council is owed about K2.5 billion in rentals by various ministries. The ministry has directed Lusaka City Council to write to the Lusaka Province Permanent Secretary indicating the debt incurred by government ministries with the view of asking the Ministry of Finance and National Planning to settle it.

Mr Mweemba : Madam Speaker, experience is the best teacher. I worked in the Lusaka City Council for twenty-seven years in-charge of collecting rates. I would like to find out from the hon. Minister regarding the building along Church Road which the Ministry of Local Government and Housing is renting, the Government has made an extension to it without the authority of the Lusaka City Council, meaning that the rental …

Mr Tetamashimba: Madam Speaker, I want to agree that my ministry rents its offices from the Lusaka City Council. I also want to agree that we made extensions, especially to the offices that accommodate the Minister and Permanent Secretary. I also want to inform the hon. Member of Parliament that there is no building in the country that can be built without getting permission from the council which also gets approval from the hon. Minister. I can, therefore, assure you that even if the extensions have been put up by us, the procedure was followed. In terms of rentals, you may wish to know that my ministry has been very kind to the Lusaka City Council in terms of grants. For instance, last year, I think we gave them over a billion kwacha in terms of grants. Therefore, if you can get more than a billion kwacha of grant funds from your mother, how can you charge your mother K200,000?

Mrs Sinyangwe(Matero): Madam Speaker, I would like to find out from the hon. Minister of Local Government and Housing when he is settling the rental arrears because that was an agreement which has nothing to do with the grants?

Mr Tetamashimba: I can assure you that both the current and previous administrations have been settling the rental arrears that we have incurring by being in that building. However, one thing that I would want to assure the hon. Member of Parliament is that the hon. Minister of Local Government and Housing will be the last person to fail to pay what belongs to Lusaka City Council through rentals.

Mr Ntundu: Madam Speaker, the hon. Minister stated that the K1 billion which they gave to the Lusaka City Council was a grant, I would like him to confirm to this House that, actually, that K1 billion was not a grant, but a debt swap.

Mr Tetamashimba: Madam Speaker, it was not a debt swap, but a grant. What is owed to the council will still be paid by the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

Dr Scott (Lusaka Central): Madam Speaker, rentals are rentals, but there are also rates and there are also grants in lieu of rates. Last time we were looking at a lot more in the total amount of money owed by the Government to Lusaka City Council than the K2.5 billion. Could the hon. Minister give us the full story for the benefit of the nation and the House?

Mr Tetamashimba: I am surprised that the councillor for Lusaka City Council who is just a stone throw from our office has never had time to come and find out about the rates and other payments that are due to the council. Madam Speaker, it is just fair that we give to the councils what we owe them. We give grants in lieu to councils without considering what we are owed as a ministry. Madam Speaker, I can assure you that even when you look at the budget, you will find a provision for the payment of rentals. However, people must also be aware that the ministry has had problems in terms of finances. This is as a result of the Government deciding to spend more on other priority areas. Are the priorities to pay rentals instead of us buying medicines for the Zambian people? The answer is no. I think that since the payment of rentals is in the budget and money being available, the time will come when we will settle them.

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