Tired of playing the 'land owner' with empty pockets, Blantyre City Assembly (BCA) is working on 'aggressive strategies' to tighten the screws on tenants who do not pay city rates.
The city has been struggling to collect revenue, a development that has adversely affected delivery of essential services. A report released in December 2011 indicated that residents owe the city in excess of K1 billion, with some of the debt dating to as far back as 2008.
The city has created the Directorate of Commerce, Trade and Industry, which will be a centralized department of revenue generation and debt collection.
Dennis Chinseu, the Director of Commerce, Trade and Industry, confirmed the establishment of a distinct department that will seek means of cleaning the accumulated debt, and focus on maximizing revenue for the assembly.
"The directorate is just two-months old. The department is mandated to generate revenue for the Council, and has taken over the running of all commercial activities."
Chinseu said, among other activities, the directorate's line of duty will include the issuance of business licences and collection of property rates in the city.
"This is a very big task, considering that 90 percent of funding for the council emanates from property rates. We, therefore, need to develop aggressive strategies, among them development of a revenue enhancement strategic plan that embraces modern bill payment systems," Chinseu said.
Currently, the directorate is developing a new register for all businesses operating in the city. Chinseu said BCA has also started updating contact details for property owners as sometimes the council fails to collect revenue because of address changes by property owners.
Chinseu said BCA was in the process of establishing an investors' forum to supplement an 'Investors' Guide' launched by the Council last year.
"We are also embarking on a massive city rebranding exercise that will see us replace old bill boards with new ones, develop a website to increase city residents' access to Council officials, introduce (city) rates payment through mobile banking, launch a service charter for city residents, and establish a call centre," Chinseu said.
Chinseu, who suspected that some BCA employees may have contributed towards the practice of defaulting on city rates' payment, said the council was in the process of establishing a toll-free line which, he said, would give residents with information the cover to report malpractices by council workers.
However, news that BCA is developing a register of all business operations in the city is likely to irk residents already wary of new data collection drives by utility suppliers such as Blantyre Water Board (BWB).
Some city residents expressed concern in the Malawi News edition of December 24-30, 2011 that BWB could share forms it was distributing to customers with the Malawi Revenue Authority which may, in turn, use it for tax collection purposes.
This followed MRA's announcement in 2011 that, with effect from May 1, it would embark on a programme aimed at enforcing payment of tax on rental income from residential and commercial properties. The development created panic among both tenants and landlords.