In parliament on Tuesday, it was revealed that the department of public enterprises owes Eskom R13.2 million.
This will likely raise eyebrows, as not only is the department responsible for the struggling energy utility, but its head, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, is tasked with fixing the embattled power provider, and has committed to getting tough on those who owe Eskom money.
He said at a media briefing in October that his department was planning on launching a campaign to encourage people who could afford to pay for electricity to indeed do so, or face the consequences.
The department’s Eskom debt was revealed after the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) called for municipalities and government departments to submit plans on how they will pay their debts to the utility by the end of February 2020.
Parliament heard that the amount owed by national and provincial government departments is roughly R9.2 billion combined, while municipalities owe an even more whopping R26.5 billion.
While it is ironic that the department of which Eskom is an entity – public enterprises – owes money, the amount pales in comparison to the department of public works, which owes R3 billion of the R3.4 billion owed by national government departments in total.
Equally ironic, as this discussion was taking place in parliament, is that it was also revealed that parliament itself owes Eskom money too, though the amount, R17,000, could be considered small change relative to the billions owed in total.
Parliament will also not be spared. Scopa will also write to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise and parliament management about the R17,000 that parliament owes the power utility.
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa said he would write to the various departments and municipalities, which will have to submit individual payment plans detailing how they will pay Eskom back.
As for the big business who owe Eskom money, Hlenga called for them to be cut off.
“Just switch off the lights,” he said.
“The municipalities must turn off the lights of those companies that are not paying. Switch it off. It’s like DStv: if you don’t pay your DStv, you get an error message and the screen just keeps moving until you pay.”
The state-owned enterprise’s own debt to government, meanwhile, stands at about R454 billion.
On Tuesday, Gordhan responded to a question in parliament about Eskom’s debt by saying the issue would take months to resolve.
“We will engage with lenders to Eskom to see what appetite they have to resolving the debt issue,” he said.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)