File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Not a single municipality in the Western Cape is currently behind on payments to Eskom or the relevant water boards in their region. 

Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell instituted an impromptu check of the 30 municipalities in the province following increased concern about municipal debt to Eskom and water boards. 

Municipalities owe Eskom more than R36 billion, with Soweto representing more than half of the total municipal debt, and the power utility has threatened to cut off municipalities' electricity supply until it recoups some of the money. 

Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) is meeting on the matter today.

“I was heartened to find that not one of our municipalities in the Western Cape are currently in danger of having their water or electricity cut off due to non-payment. 

"We have one municipality where there is a long-term debt owed to Eskom, but that debt already has a payment plan in place that the council is sticking to.” 

Bredell said that there is no excuse for municipalities not to pay Eskom.

“Municipalities get electricity from Eskom at a discounted, fixed rate and then charge an additional overhead tariff to their customers, income which is used by the councils to provide better services to their communities. 

"The councils are meant to pay over the cost of the goods procured to Eskom and they can use the rest to spend per their approved budgets. But when municipalities start spending it all before paying Eskom or a water board, then they run into trouble.” 

Bredell said indigent communities receive free basic electricity, water and other services from their municipalities and this should not be used as an excuse by councils for non-payment.

“Municipalities get subsidised to be able to provide free basic services to their indigent communities. We have some very poor municipalities in the Western Cape too but they are still able to pay their dues. 

"The bottom line is good management is key to managing councils and ensuring communities lights are not cut.

"I want to highlight the hard work done by councils in the Western Cape as well as officials in the department of local government in the province in this regard.”

Bredell said recent reports by the auditor-general provides further reassurance about the state of the finances of municipalities in the Western Cape.

“We had 26 out of 30 councils get unqualified audits in the latest round of audits. And none of our councils are currently in need of urgent financial intervention. 

"While we remain concerned about looming budget cuts from national government and the impact thereof on service delivery moving forward, we will continue doing what we can to deliver the best services possible to all our communities.”

Cape Times