PARLIAMENT - Government was looking at finding a political solution to the high amount of debt municipalities owe to Eskom, South Africa's state-owned electricity utility, and preferred not to settle the impasse between the two parties in court, MPs were told on Thursday.

Briefing Parliament's standing committee on public accounts on the some R14 billion owed by municipalities to Eskom, Cooperative Governance Minister Zweli Mkhize said an advisory panel was currently helping government analyse the problem and find a way for Eskom to recover the debt while at the same time ensuring cash-strapped municipalities were not hamstrung.

Municipalities were owed some R139 million in non-payment for services from clients, having a knock-on effect on its ability to pay Eskom.

Mkhize said the fact that Eskom had gone directly to municipal clients to get payment was creating more problems as municipalities were losing their top paying clients, impacting further on their revenue.

He said law changes could also be on the cards as Eskom and municipalities had overlapping mandates.

"Where the matter gets complicated is the fact that there's a conflicting issue of mandates. In the Constitution the municipal services will include distribution of electricity and on the Electrification Act Eskom has the mandate to distribute."

"We need to make a political determination to redefine the mandate of the two and somewhere along the line we need to have that analysed."

Eskom last year cut electricity intermittently to several municipalities for non-payment, but ultimately set up payment agreements with them. However, municipalities had not been sticking to the payment schedule.

Last year, the courts granted Eskom the right to cut supply. In addition, organised business and communities had also turned to the courts in a bid to make direct payments to Eskom to avoid their power being cut.

- African News Agency (ANA)