Public Works owes fraction of R3bn debt, says minister
Cape Town - Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille on Tuesday told Parliament that her department owed a fraction of the R3billion in municipal debt.
De Lille told the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) that municipalities had confirmed R186million was owed by her department after reconciliation of accounts.
“After verification and engagements with municipalities, there was a difference of more than R1.7bn from the amount stated in Section 71 reports. This means that once accounts of these municipalities were verified, the actual amount owed was R186m as opposed to R1.9bn that they reported in Section 71 reports.
“This is a significant difference, chairperson, in actual amount owed,” she told the Scopa meeting.
De Lille was leading a departmental delegation to account for her department which was flagged as “the biggest offender” in debts owed to municipalities last December.
Scopa had heard the debt owed to municipalities between 2014 and 2019 increased by over R7bn with the national department owing R3bn and its provincial counterparts owing R3.7bn. The amounts were extracted from Section 71 reports prepared by municipalities for submission to the National Treasury on a monthly basis.
The department pays municipal accounts and in some cases pays Eskom accounts on behalf of all departments and charges them a 5% fee.
Government departments then reimburse the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.
De Lille said national departments owed her departments just over R3.4bn in relation to municipal services by the end of December. She also said her department started a campaign in August last year to settle all outstanding national government debts owed to municipalities and Eskom.
The minister said they had introduced consequence management which resulted in about 10 officials being disciplined for non-payment of municipal accounts within 30 days.
According To De Lille, as at June 2019, 135 out of 257 councils had reported the debt owed to her department and the remaining 122 had not as per statutory requirements.
“During this campaign it was found the initial reported R3bn was incorrect. This is a serious offence (as) municipalities reported inflated and wrong information in Section 71 reports.”
She named three councils that disclosed astronomical debts with one in Mpumalanga reporting R925.5m only for the reconciliation to confirm R6.9m.
A municipality in Gauteng had disclosed R185.9m debt, but could not provide supporting documents while another in Limpopo had disclosed R362.2m only for the reverification process to confirm only R1.3m.
De Lille said her department was yet to engage another 142 municipalities
“We hope to finish all of these hopefully before the end of the financial year or soon thereafter,” she said.
But, the MPs were concerned that the department had given a conflicting report to one presented to it last December.
ANC MP Hadebe said: “Today, we are told that we are crucifying the wrong Jesus”, before lamenting that Eskom, inter-ministerial task team and Salga had lied to the committee.