Municipalities across the country owe the national department of water and sanitation R2.7 billion in unpaid water bills, but Minister Nomvula Mokonyane yesterday denied the department was bankrupt.
Mokonyane revealed the outstanding amount during a parliamentary briefing and admitted her department was currently operating on an overdraft of R2.1 billion.
The department was engaging National Treasury about instigating revenue-increasing and debt-management measures to recover the money and settle its debt, she said in a statement.
However, she dismissed the allegations of bankruptcy, saying that on March 31, the department had sufficient funds to pay salaries and invoices, adding that 98% of invoices received were paid within a 30-day period.
But some service providers claim they are still owed money by the department for services rendered in the period up to March 31.
Simbi Phiri, of South Zambezi and Khato Civils in Midrand, claims the department only paid R120 million of the R256 million owed.
The company is involved in the Giyani Emergency Project, reportedly costing several billion rands, which was launched after the region was declared a disaster area following a protracted cholera outbreak, which claimed a large number of lives.
“Our pleas to have our invoices paid always fell on deaf ears. But for the sake of the community of Giyani, we continued,” Phiri said.
Mokonyane cited the R2.7 billion debt by the municipalities as a major concern for the department and a threat to its ability to deliver bulk water infrastructure.
In February this year, during the Limpopo Local Government Summit, Mokonyane said Limpopo alone owed the department R769 million.
“Water being a critical and essential service, we cannot switch off water supply as a debt-recovery measure and hence the need to emphasise an intergovernmental process that guarantees that those that owe the department service their obligations,” added Mokonyane.
This week, the DA told parliament’s portfolio committee on water and sanitation some of the department’s big water projects would stall because the department owed water boards R480 million.