Thursday, February 23, 2012

Engagement of debt collectors tormenting

Numerous schools in Bulawayo have handed over defaulting parents to debt collectors in a bid to compel payments. The engagement of debt collectors leaves struggling parents of pupils who fail to pay school fees and levies accruing huge debts and living in perpetual fear of having their properties attached. Parents are at the brink of losing household property and other valuables.
Parents, served with letters from debt collectors after some failed to pay fees and levies, take responsibility for not being able to pay fees but do not approve of the measures taken by schools in an effort to squeeze money out of the offending parents. Some of the debt collectors’ charges were astronomical considering that parents had failed to settle the levies without an additional debt collector’s commission. Parents are struggling to survive and provide for their families on the meagre salaries they earn. Some of the government ministers are on record blasting workers, including civil servants, and unions for demanding higher salaries. How then are these ordinary citizens expected to fend for their families when they earn salaries that are way below the poverty datum line.
A letter from a debt collector to a parent reads: “Your account has been handed over to us for collection. An amount of US$96 in respect of levy/fees is now overdue and payable. In the circumstances, we have been instructed to demand as we hereby do, payment of the sum of US$96 at our offices within 48 hours, failing which we will instruct the messenger of court to attach and sell your property without further notice.”
The letters threatening attaching parents’ property or taking legal action against them give notices ranging from 24 hours to seven days. For most people the initial seven days they were required to visit the offices of the debt collectors expired before they got the notices that were sent through Zimpost. Disappointingly, the debt collectors would still insist on the penalty for coming after the seven days had elapsed. Debt collectors have also revealed that they want the payment in full and if partial payment was made, there would be interest added to the outstanding balance. It is a burden to parents to pay money that kept on accruing interest until the whole outstanding balance is cleared.
The engagement of debt collectors has a dismal effect on the rural populace. Some rural schools have descended on villagers seizing livestock, grain, farming implements and other valuables over outstanding school fees and levies. It is alleged that in some instances this is being done outside the law as the schools do not have court orders to that effect. The actions by the schools are illegal as they could be confiscating valuables from parents without following proper procedures. The majority of the parents and guardians are peasant farmers who depend on crop and livestock sales. It is also of paramount importance to consider that the recurrent droughts are most likely to affect payment of schools fees in rural schools.
The government seems to lend a deaf ear to the plight of parents some of whom have their children enrolled at government schools. Government run schools are expected to be more lenient and concerned about the right to education more than generating income. Not much effort has been done to completely thwart the involvement of debt collectors.
In response to parents’ grievances over having their property and valuables attached after schools ordered parents to top-up fees and demanded higher levies the Minister of Education, Sports Art and Culture, David Coltart, said admission fees government announced were enough while schools and parents needed to agree on levies. The fees were set at US$10 for secondary schools and US$5 for primary. Rural schools were exempted from charging fees. What school authorities were required to do was to determine levies that should be collectively agreed to by parents and guardians in a meeting. There is a need for school authorities to consult with parents in coming up with reasonable amounts that should be paid as levies. These amounts should be affordable even to the poorest members of the community. Child headed families, orphans in the care of grandparents or relatives that are not employed and do not have regular and reliable sources of income and other disadvantaged children face a bleak future as education, under the government’s watch, slowly turns into a preserve for the elite. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Revitalisation of recreational facilities a necessity

There is a need for the renaissance of community recreational facilities in Bulawayo. These facilities have in the past been used to keep unemployed youths occupied and to avert social strangulation. Elderly citizens also used these amenities to convene social clubs while women held skills promoting workshops. The recreational facilities have been beneficial to various groups in the society and their role cannot be overlooked. Communities without recreational facilities are most likely to be poverty stricken, have a high HIV/AIDS prevalence and very little development. The local authority is therefore urged to resuscitate recreational facilities.

The youth in Bulawayo have been blamed for perpetuating political violence. In pursuit of economic favours, youth fall prey to politicians who prey on their plight and offer them money. This is common towards elections because the youth are cheated into thinking that taking part in the national process is a form of employment. Most of them resort to this as they are desperate for money while for some it is because they are not occupied. To avoid having an increasing number of youths embarking on corrupt and immoral activities the city council should revive recreational facilities so that youths’ attention is diverted. The recreational facilities offer an escape for youths interested in various disciplines like soccer, drama clubs and fashion designing.

Most residential areas are marred with moral decadence. This is reflected in the rising number of school drop outs, teenage pregnancies, crime, vice and cases of alcohol and drug abuse among the youth. The municipality has neglected playing fields that were set aside as urban recreational parks. The local authority has limited community gardens that do not accommodate all those that may need them. School leavers remain idle because they lack social activities to occupy them hence most of them resort to aforementioned social decadences. Recreational facilities kept social morals intact, without them society has a bleak future.

With the restoration of Bulawayo’s status as the cleanest city in the world in mind, it is imperative for communities to decide which lands to protect for recreation, community character, the conservation of natural resources, and open space. In an attempt to attain Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 of ensuring environmental sustainability residents, assisted by the city council, have a vital role to play in conserving the environment. Community members have to be actively involved in the restoration of the environment. Parks were a habitat for fish, ducks and ponds which to a certain extent balanced the natural eco-system. Under the current situation lack of recreational facilities contributes somewhat to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Urban parks, gardens, and recreational open spaces do not only benefit the youth but also stimulate commercial growth and promote inner-city revitalization. The city council used to hire out council halls and the money generated was used to revitalise other essential services offered by the local authority. This in turn determines where solid development will occur. Zimbabwe can learn a lot from the state of New Jersey which leads the way in open space preservation. $1.4 billion has been generated by New Jersey's Green Acres land acquisition program in 34 years with $1 billion more expected to protect another 1 million acres which is 50% of New Jersey's remaining open space. There is need to conserve natural resources as these can contribute to the development of communities. Parks and open spaces create a high quality of life that attracts tax-paying businesses and residents to communities. Across the U.S., access to parks and open spaces has become a measure of community wealth - a tool for attracting businesses and residents by guaranteeing quality of life and economic health.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shortage of funds to pay nurses insincere

Recently the government announced that it does not have the capacity to remunerate more than a thousand of state registered nurses who were then issued with their diplomas as government has suspended the programme of bonding nurses. This assertion which amounts to acceptance by the government that it is abdicating in its duties has some bad taste in it especially in view of the fact that it is premised on the spurious excuse that the government no longer has resources to pay nurses. The move paves way for nurses in the country to not only seek greener pastures in neighbouring countries but put at risk the lives of the residents who have to go to ill-equipped and ill-manned hospitals. Initially government would withhold diplomas for nurses who completed their training arguing that they were supposed to be bonded to Government health institutions for at least three years.

While this is clearly an easy exit for the government which usually finds it easy to run away from its responsibilities (remember the teachers’ incentives), this move puts pressure on the already overburdened patient-nurse ratio. It is also a perpetuation of the old syndrome where patients are left to suffer because there are no nurses to attend to them and the results have been very glaring considering infant, child and maternal mortality. At a time when HIV/AIDS has depleted the health sector the government needs to find a way of harnessing all the resources at its disposal.

In its insincerity the government of Zimbabwe wants Zimbabweans to believe that it cannot continue bonding nurses, who have played a pivotal role in as far as reducing the health crisis is concerned, because of lack of resources. This cannot be so because Zimbabweans are aware of the diamonds being looted at Marange and the leakages that have become the order of the day in most of Zimbabwe’s border posts. While money is available to pay Members of Parliament, senators and councillors who are ill-equipped for governance tasks (judging from the little that the GNU has done) it is tantamount to betrayal for government to claim inadequacy of funds. More so the public service commission conducted an audit in January 2011 which revealed that there are between 45 000 and 70 000 “ghost” workers on the government payroll. The people who could not be traced impact heavily on the state’s already dry coffers. The national treasury and Public Service Commission should ensure that these people are removed from the payroll as the salaries accorded to them could benefit hospitals that do not have adequate nursing staff manning them.
The flimsy resources argument cannot stand the test of reality especially in view of the fact that Zimbabweans are aware that wall of police stations are awash with advertisements of vacancy notices in the security forces. Clearly if they are resources to continue recruiting for the army and the police forces why should the government fail to allocate resources to an essential sector like health.

The Zimbabwean government is indicating left and turning right in its purported fight against the brain drain. History is replete with statement of complaints about the brain drain and the many steps that the government is taking to avert this. Its actions on the nurses indicate that the brain drain argument is superficial and a political excuse for failure to provide essential services. The nurses will benefit countries like Botswana, South Africa and Namibia where they will not only be appreciated but also paid handsomely. The government invests a lot into the development of nurses’ skills but instead of making use of the nurses so that they plough back into the nation’s coffers through tax and also assist in improving service delivery.

The importance that the government should attach to the revival of the health sector cannot be over emphasised. The contribution of nurses towards achieving that feat is also blatant. The expectation is that government should be business as unusual. Efforts should be made to ensure that the money leakages in our economy are blocked and recovered resources channelled towards the health sector. In addition to that alternative means of resourcing like public-private partnerships should be employed. Otherwise even major referral hospitals will be reduced to clinics.