Churches, coun­cil clash over debts:

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FRONT PAGE - Fa­tima Bulla and De­sire Ncube

FOL­LOW­ING the pub­li­ca­tion of Harare City Coun­cil’s list of big debtors last week, the lo­cal author­ity is at log­ger­heads with sev­eral churches that are dis­put­ing the fig­ures, with some drag­ging the coun­cil to court. Seven­teen churches were on the list. These are Cel­e­bra­tion Church which re­port­edly owes US$846 564,49, Methodist Church in Zim­babwe (US$183 708,04), Zaoga (US$42 000,94), Christ Em­bassy (US$166 867,89), Sal­va­tion Army (US$309 511,72), Apos­tolic Faith Mis­sion (US$682 231,25), Angli­can (US$142 503,50), United Methodist Church (US$143 073,64) and Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness (US$20 280,16).

Also is debt is Apos­tolic Pen­te­costal Church (Us$88 714,27), Jo­hanne Ma­sowe WeChis­hanu (US$15 000,38), Prophetic, Heal­ing and De­liv­er­ance Min­istries (US$200 181,52), Dutch Re­formed Church ($165 365,68), Uni­ver­sal Church ($136 128,27), Church of Nazarene (US$86 014,61), Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tist (US$615 964,56) and As­sem­blies of God (US$49 440,67). The debt to­tals US$3 893 558,59. In an in­ter­view with per­son­nel from the listed churches, most of them high­lighted that coun­cil was charg­ing com­mer­cial rates for their char­ity work in ad­di­tion to United States dol­lar in­ter­est rates on debts ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing the Zim­babwe dol­lar era.

In ad­di­tion, some of the churches in­sisted that they had not re­fused to co­op­er­ate with coun­cil but the debts were spec­u­la­tive. Sal­va­tion Army’ spokesper­son Cap­tain Vic­tor Ma­fukidze said most of the debts had ac­cu­mu­lated within homes that take care of the less priv­i­leged where fi­nan­cial aid had ceased.

“The con­ver­sion which hap­pened from a Zim-dol­lar to a US dol­lar econ­omy meant things went hay­wire. In this con­ver­sion they did not con­sider churches. We are cur­rently ser­vic­ing in­ter­ests as they con­tinue ac­cu­mu­lat­ing. Churches are not com­pa­nies but char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions which carry so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­grammes in the com­mu­nity. We have hos­pi­tals, we run homes for the less priv­i­leged and have built schools to meet the needs of the com­mu­nity.

“We are not profit mak­ing like other churches which ven­ture in build­ing ho­tels, yet they charge us com­mer­cial rates,” Cap­tain Ma­fukidze said.

He added: “Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment should con­sider our com­ple­men­tary role to Gov­ern­ment as char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions. This is vol­un­tary, a call­ing and not a job.

“Harare City Coun­cil should con­sider the ser­vice we of­fer and sub­sidise us in that re­gard. For in­stance, our in­sti­tu­tions like Brae­side Old Peo­ple’s Home run in­de­pen­dently. Peo­ple who used to as­sist fi­nan­cially lost jobs or were re­trenched, they can­not sup­port us any­more.”

United Methodist Church ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant Rev­erend Alan Masimba Gu­rupira said they were in the process of ver­i­fy­ing fig­ures that were pub­lished by the Harare City Coun­cil. “Coun­cil did en­gage us on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, but I think those who pub­lished the list did not con­sider what was hap­pen­ing on the ground. A num­ber of our churches are en­gag­ing the coun­cil and I can con­firm that they have pay­ment plans.

“We are ver­i­fy­ing the fig­ures, they might be low or high. We will let you know when we are done with that process. We are also in the process of iden­ti­fy­ing which church has a pay­ment plan and which one does not have. We will as­sist those who do not have so that we will am­i­ca­bly set­tle the debt,” Rev Gu­rupira said. Angli­can Church Dioce­san Sec­re­tary Rev­erend Clifford Dzawo con­curred with the process of ver­i­fy­ing fig­ures re­leased by coun­cil. “We will do a fol­low-up be­cause we want to un­der­stand how they came up with such a fig­ure. As the dioce­san of­fice, we have a pay­ment plan with them and they know that we pay.

“One other thing that could be of in­ter­est is that the money owed to the City Coun­cil by the church was all in­her­ited from (for­mer Bishop Nol­bert) Kunonga’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. If you look at our cur­rent bills and rates, state­ments are up to date.

“Again when pub­lish­ing the list, the coun­cil did not en­gage us but it’s not a prob­lem be­cause we owe them.

Weigh­ing in but pre­fer­ring to be anony­mous, a Zaoga of­fi­cial said they were sur­prised to see their name on the debtors list as they were mak­ing plans to ser­vice the debt.

“We are yet to ver­ify the fig­ures that were pub­lished by Harare City Coun­cil, we have since con­tacted our dis­tricts as well as in­di­vid­ual churches to ver­ify. Be­fore they pub­lished the list I went di­rectly to coun­cil of­fices and saw an of­fi­cial (name sup­plied), we dis­cussed a pay­ment plan.

“But I was sur­prised to see our name on the list of churches that are not co­op­er­at­ing with the coun­cil. It’s true coun­cil con­tacted us as the head of­fice but they did not con­tact in­di­vid­ual churches. I have since re­alised that the amount they pub­lished in­clude the cur­rent rates so if we pay the cur­rent it will not be that huge. I will go again and see the coun­cil of­fi­cial, maybe he can shed more light on this mat­ter,” said the source.

Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tist North Zim­babwe Con­fer­ence pres­i­dent Dr Obert Mudzengi said they have set up a team of trea­sur­ers who will visit the branches which are re­port­edly ow­ing coun­cil.

“The Harare City Coun­cil didn’t en­gage us di­rectly as con­fer­ence of­fices, nei­ther did it con­tact our na­tional of­fice, the Zim­babwe Union Con­fer­ence. “My un­der­stand­ing or my think­ing is that they have been deal­ing di­rectly with in­di­vid­ual Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tist churches. It came also as news to me that we are ow­ing coun­cil that much. I only re­ceived a Press cut­ting last week from a col­league in­di­cat­ing that SDA is among the churches ow­ing Harare City Coun­cil. At the mo­ment I can­not even deny or con­firm that SDA churches in Harare are ow­ing Harare City Coun­cil USD$615 964,56,” Dr Mudzengi said.

Methodist Church in Zim­babwe pre­sid­ing bishop, Rev­erend Solomon Zwana, said their churches have no ar­rears amount­ing to US$183 708,04. “I don’t know if we are the ones they are talk­ing about be­cause there are many Methodist churches. But if they are re­fer­ring to us they are mis­guided,” he said.

The church’s mis­sion direc­tor, Dr Kennedy Gon­dongwe, con­curred adding: “As Methodist Church in Zim­babwe we are not ow­ing Harare City coun­cil that much. Af­ter all, they did not even en­gage us in any way. The only church that we know as head of­fice that is ow­ing city coun­cil is Mab­vuku church which is sup­posed to pay US$10 000 only.

“And I un­der­stand that Mab­vuku church made ar­range­ments with the coun­cil and they have come up with a pay­ment plan which they are ad­her­ing to. They are also show­ing us all the re­ceipts as proof of their pay­ments. I don’t even know why the coun­cil de­cided to pub­lish our name, it’s very ridicu­lous and tar­nish­ing.

“If the pre­sid­ing bishop was here we were go­ing to ask him for a per­mis­sion to en­gage our le­gal team and ask the coun­cil why it did that. They should is­sue an apol­ogy.

Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses claim that coun­cil did not en­gage them ei­ther.

“It’s true we are ow­ing coun­cil but they should have en­gaged us be­fore pub­lish­ing our name in the Press. As you know, we have a num­ber of churches and that is ex­pected. We are not happy with the way coun­cil han­dled this mat­ter, bring­ing it up in the news­pa­pers for the wrong rea­sons. It’s not good for the church.

“How­ever, we are go­ing to dis­cuss with them as soon as pos­si­ble and make sure that the is­sue is re­solved am­i­ca­bly,” Mr Nor­man Nde­bele said.

Mean­while, Cel­e­bra­tion Church has taken the coun­cil to High Court dis­put­ing the debt fig­ure.

It stated that the city con­tin­ued to bill the church even though it has been re­ly­ing ex­clu­sively on bore­hole wa­ter since the pre-dol­lar­i­sa­tion era.

Cel­e­bra­tion Church claims it only owes US$154 520,95, not the pub­lished US$846 564,49. Harare City Coun­cil spokesper­son Mr Michael Chideme was adamant that the fig­ures pub­lished were cor­rect.

“Yes, we are charg­ing all ac­tiv­i­ties hap­pen­ing at premises so if they are do­ing any com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity we are charg­ing. Churches should know that there is hon­our in telling the truth. All the churches whose names were pub­lished owe the city.

“While they are com­ing to you with false claims they are also com­ing to us to set­tle their bills and to make pay­ment plans. The list that we pub­lished was of churches that had not re­sponded to our calls for pay­ment plans and which had ne­glected pay­ing their bills as de­picted by the huge amounts ow­ing,” said Mr Chideme.

Last year, coun­cil of­fered churches on lease agree­ments the op­por­tu­nity to buy the stands, but pred­i­cated the pur­chase on clear­ing of out­stand­ing debts.

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