KWAZULU-NATAL Premier Senzo Mchunu yesterday assured delegates to the South African Local Government Association (Salga) that his government would work with municipalities to ensure departments paid their portion of R11,2 billion owed to councils. Mchunu said the government departments’ debt issue would be taken up at the soon-to-be-held premier’s co- ordinating forum — where departments and municipalities meet to discuss issues. He revealed to the assembly that R11,2 billion was owed to the province’s municipalities as at the end of 2012/13 financial year. The figure had grown by 13,1% from R9,9 billion owed in the prior financial year. Salga provincial chairperson Welcome Mdabe later told reporters that of the total amount owed, R1,2 billion was bad debt, unlikely to be recovered. He ascribed the debt to indigent people and those who lost jobs and could not afford to pay for services. Mdabe had earlier told the provincial assembly that Salga should address losses from water and electricity sales as well as ensure that free basic services were provided to the poor. “Those able to pay must see stronger action to pay for services,” he said. According to Mchunu, failure to pay for services crippled municipalities and made it impossible to deliver services. eThekwini was owed the highest amount, totalling R5,5 billion, with uMgungundlovu owed R2 billion, Msunduzi R1,5 billion and Sisonke R159,3 million. Almost R3,5 billion was owed in water and R3,5 billion in property rates. “As of 30 June, 2013, a significant portion of the outstanding debtors are owned by household customer groups amounting to R6,4 billion. “This is followed by debtors classified as business at R2,5 billion and government R697,9 million,” Mchunu said, appealing to those who owed municipalities to pay up. Service delivery protests were also discussed at the Salga provincial assembly. House of Traditional Leaders deputy chairperson Inkosi Victor Ngcobo criticised those who embarked on burning municipal offices, mayors’ cars and councillors’ houses to demand services. Ngcobo also lashed out at those who mislead communities to mount service protests to fulfil their own agendas. Human Settlement MEC Ravi Pillay said some of the service delivery protests were done in bad faith. He also urged municipalities to address community concerns. Salga CEO Xolile George told reporters that a study commissioned by the local government body showed that there were eight key priorities raised by communities when they embarked on service delivery protests. “Housing ranks as the main driver behind the protests,” he said. Electricity was the second issue, followed by backlogs in other services, tensions in municipalities and other issues.