Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize. File picture: ANA/Jonisayi Maromo

Bloemfontein - Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) minister Zweli Mkhize has urged leaders across the political divide in the Free State to put their differences aside and work towards improving their municipalities as most them are either distressed or dysfunctional.

Mkhize said while it's known that the biggest problem is low revenue collection due to a small collection base, local authorities should also encourage people to pay because in some cases, politicians promised that they will not pay for services.

Mkhize said this in Bloemfontein on Friday during a day-long meeting with provincial government leaders, mayors and municipal officers. The meeting was part of his countrywide visits to distressed municipalities.

"You're all responsible for turning things around regardless of your party," said Mkhize.

"We have a role to play and we are prepared to assist you, but are you ready for it? Put specific time frames to your programmes in order to measure progress. If it's not measured it won't happen. If it's not happening, nothing is going to change," he added.

At least nine municipalities and the Mangaung Metro were represented at the meeting as they have been identified as needing serious and urgent attention. These include: Mafube, Masilonyana, Maluti-A-Phofung, Kopanong, Letsemeng, Mantsopa, Nketoana, Tokologo and Mohokare local municipalities.

"Encourage people to pay for services. If you told people not to pay because you were campaigning, we might want to invite you to go back and tell them to pay because that'd mean some people are paying elsewhere. Some councillors and other leaders are also not paying for services. This is no time for political fights. Municipalities must be turned around and deliver better services to the people," said Mkhize.

Mkhize said audit outcomes released by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu last month should be tabled council meetings over the next four weeks and ensure the recommendations are followed. 

"There must be consequences. We must be frank and upfront. I believe you are all capable. It won't help us to beat about the bush. We will run into serious problems," he said.

According to Makwetu, fundamental principles needed to improve prior year audit outcomes, break the cycle of impunity and ensure accountability, include proper planning, execution and supervision of internal controls as well as consequences for poor performance. 

Makwetu said there has been an increased call for greater accountability in local government in the Free State.

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela bemoaned the state of municipalities in the province and urged local government leaders at the meeting to pull up their socks and turn things around. 

She expressed disappointment at the growing debt to power utility Eskom which most municipalities in the province were failing to service.

Ntombela told the meeting that Eskom is owed about R16 billion by different municipalities across the across the country but 40 percent of that is owed by Free State municipalities.

Matjhabeng Local Municipality which includes the gold-rich towns of Welkom and Virginia has a R2.8 billion electricity bill.

"Let's take local government seriously," said a worried Ntombela. 

"If we don't, we are going to have serious problems come 2019. Let's bring unity in our municipalities. If we're not united, we won't move, especially if you the mayor," she added.