CAPE TOWN– South African Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has vowed to rein in municipalities placed under administration and those owing power utility Eskom.

Delivering his maiden Budget Vote speech in Parliament here Tuesday, he tabled a departmental budget of 83 billion Rand (about 6.6 billion US dollars) for the 2018/19 fiscal year.

According to Mkhize, 11 municipalities are currently being administered by provincial governments under Section 139 of the Constitution, which allows provincial governments to intervene when municipalities fail to function as required.

These municipalities will be monitored with a view to ensuring that they improve and get out of Section 139 within 12 months, he said, adding that KwaZulu-Natal province had six municipalities under provincial administration, followed by Free State province with three and Eastern Cape and Western Cape each with one.

COGTA will explore the acquisition of information communication technology (ICT) capability and an early warning system to counter the problems faced by these municipalities.

We need early detection of community discontent and timely responses to reduce instances where community frustration bursts out into public protests and burning barricades. This ICT capability will improve COGTA’s effectiveness in supporting early interventions, said Mkhize.

He also said it is unacceptable that municipalities owe so much money to Eskom and water boards. As at Dec 31, 2017, the total bulk services owed by municipalities was 23.6 billion Rand — 16.2 billion Rand for electricity and 7.4 billion Rand for water.

Among the top five provinces owing Eskom are Free State, Mpumalanga, North West, Gauteng and Limpopo. Together they owe 70 per cent of the total debt to Eskom. We have appealed to Eskom to suspend the interruption of services to municipalities due to the huge sums of monies that they owe, said Mkhize.

An inter-ministerial task team (IMTT) led by COGTA is currently looking at the constitutional, systemic and structural challenges in electricity distribution and reticulation, as well as to find solutions to the electricity and water bulk services debt owed to State-owned companies by municipalities.

The IMTT is overseeing a technical team which is tasked with finding solutions on the issue of municipal debt for bulk services.