NATIONAL NEWS - Usually smiling Deputy President David Mabuza was irate as he demanded that all government departments pay their municipal bills, or answer to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
He said accounting officers must take disciplinary action against any official who breached the Public Finance Management Act on payments.
Mabuza told a question-and-answer session in the national council of provinces on Wednesday he will personally make sure all government departments that owe money for services provided to them by municipalities are paid, and that those who failed to do so would be summoned to the presidency to answer why they disrespected the law.
Mabuza said he would write a letter to each of the ministers to urge them to ensure their departments paid up.
Some politicians, including mayors and members of parliament, failed to pay their municipal accounts.
The deputy president was especially concerned about the debt owed by municipalities to power utility Eskom as a result of residents, businesses and government departments failing to pay. He estimated the outstanding amount to be about R19.9 billion.
National Treasury had advised that aggregate municipal consumer debts amounted to R165.5 billion as at June 30.
Due to escalating consumer debt, many of the affected municipalities have been struggling to meet their own payment obligations.
“The top 20 defaulting municipalities constitute 81% of total invoiced municipal arrears debt, with total arrears debt of more than R100 million each,” he said. “However, indications are, these figures have increased significantly over the past few months.
“Furthermore, according to the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, over R9.7 billion is owed by national and provincial government departments to municipalities,” Mabuza said.
He blamed the culture of nonpayment by communities, something he attributed to the anti-apartheid struggle days, when the liberation movement encouraged people not to pay for services as part of the fight against an oppressive regime.
“We call on all South Africans, particularly those with income, to play their part in ensuring that we lessen the burden of debt faced by our municipalities.
“We must engender a culture of paying for services that have been rendered and consumed, especially from public entities like Eskom, just as we do with any other form of services rendered for private consumption,” he said.
To deal with the crisis facing state-owned entities like Eskom, South African Airways, Denel and the SABC, the National Treasury and department of public enterprises were devising a strategy to reduce their reliance on government guarantees.
“Mechanisms for ensuring that government departments and state-owned entities’ settle their debts in time are provided for by section 38 of Public Finance Management Act. Accounting officers are required to settle all contractual obligations and pay all monies owed … within 30 days of the submission of an invoice, or on a specific period agreed with creditors or suppliers.