File picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - Proposals for a complete overhaul of the country’s local government system including the writing off of billions of rand in debt have been widely welcomed.
The South African Local Government Association (Salga) this week resolved to lobby national government to introduce legislation to allow the writing off of “bad, realistically non-collectable debt” on the condition consumers accept the installation of prepaid meters to prevent the recurrence of non-payment.

Figures released last month show debt impairment in municipalities is expected to be over R21billion at the end of 2018/19 financial year.

The debt was accumulated by households, businesses and government departments.

After Salga’s national members’ assembly, where representatives also undertook to lobby for the overhaul of the systems and funding of local government in the context of the policy of the National Development Plan, Integrated Urban Development Framework and Sustainable Development Goals.

DA shadow minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs Kevin Mileham told Independent Media yesterday that he agrees that municipalities’ books should be cleared and for qualifying consumers to start from a clean slate.

Mileham said Eskom, which is owed R16bn by non-paying municipalities, also needed to write off some of the debt. “We need to look at what is repayable,” he said.

Mileham said the troubled Maluti-a-Phofung municipality in Harrismith in the Free State, which owes Eskom nearly R3bn, will never be able to pay its debt.

Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union president Stanley Khoza said writing off debt would be a relief for consumers.

SA Municipal Workers’ Union spokesperson Papikie Mohale said the union welcomed the writing off of debt but cautioned the introduction of prepaid meters would lead to poor people not receiving services.

Mohale warned that poor households should not be cut off from services just because they cannot pay.

He said Salga should also have passed resolutions on the debt municipalities owe to Eskom and water service authorities and the water and sanitation department’s water trading entity, which now stands at R13.1bn.

”We want to know how they are going to address this as it affects service delivery,” he said.

Mileham, who attended the assembly in Durban this week, backed Salga’s proposal that the promulgation of the Interventions Bill be expedited.

The bill will “create a predictable framework of support to municipalities and eliminate subjective political factors being used to justify section 139 interventions (municipalities being placed under administration)”.

Mileham said the Integrated Monitoring, Support and Interventions Bill was supposed to have been presented before Parliament in 2013.

There were 87 distressed or dysfunctional municipalities that needed intervention, Mileham said.

He said the bill should clearly state the procedures to be followed when a municipality is placed under administration, key measurables and milestones as well as set up reporting structures to ensure sustainability once the intervention is over.

Mohale said the Bill would help stop instances where political parties in charge of provincial governments intervene in municipalities for factional reasons and to be closer to resources.

Khoza said municipalities must not be placed under administration for political reasons and that processes must be followed.

Political Bureau