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The Department of Public Works owes R443 million to municipalities around the country for rates and taxes.
The Public Works Department and its provincial counterparts are responsible for the management and upkeep of all government property, including police stations, office buildings and official residences.
The Free State department was the biggest culprit – owing almost half the total. KwaZulu-Natal came in second at R100m, with Mpumalanga owing the least at R7m.
Public Works Minister Thembelani Nxesi said in a written parliamentary reply to DA representative in the National Council of Provinces Velly Manzini that his department had taken steps to improve payment.
“The measures to ensure timeous payment include (the) creation of an invoice register to track payment processing of invoices as well as outstanding monthly invoices.”
He said the department would also reconcile property data with municipal data to ensure that all properties were levied and paid monthly.
DA public works spokeswoman Anchen Dreyer said the Department of Public Works, together with the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the National Treasury and the Presidency, had established a task team to address high levels of intergovernmental debt in June last year.
Dreyer said the most disappointing finding was that in 10 out of the 20 municipalities targeted in the programme, there had been an increase in the debt owed by the government.
“The task team set itself an ambitious target of effecting a 50 percent reduction in intergovernmental debt owed to municipalities. The average improvement achieved as of December 2011 was only 11 percent.”
The task team had found that “persistent debt” was attributable to, among other things, the high rate of “management turnover in municipalities and insufficient reconciliation of the state immovable assets registers for all three spheres of government”, she said.
“I will be requesting the task team on intergovernmental debt to provide detailed feedback to the portfolio committee on public works on the progress with this process.”
In May, the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs said its hands were tied in the struggle to get the various government departments to pay their billions in debt to municipalities.
Municipalities were owed about R3.5 billion by all government departments at the end of December.