Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: MASI LOSI
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: MASI LOSI

Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), which is the legislature’s watchdog on government spending, vented its fury at co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Tuesday for failing to show up to discuss Eskom’s burgeoning municipal debt.

Municipal debt to Eskom is growing at the alarming rate of almost R1bn a month as a growing number of municipalities fail to pay their Eskom bills. Government interventions to urge payment, which are now led by Dlamini-Zuma, have failed to reverse the trend. Eskom is now owed R25bn by municipalities. This excludes debt owed by individual consumers to Eskom, mainly in Soweto, which is at about R18bn.

Dlamini-Zuma, who heads an inter-ministerial task team to address the problem, had been expected, along with other members, to brief Scopa on its work. But Dlamini-Zuma did not pitch up at the meeting, after confirming her attendance as late as Monday night, said Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

The committee was also annoyed at the absence of most of the rest of the team, which should also have included Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan. Nelisiwe Magubane, a member of the Eskom board, attended the meeting as well as officials from the department of co-operative development, public enterprises and treasury.

But Hlengwa, with the support of MPs across the board, did not allow the meeting to proceed and sent the officials packing, saying that the committee “had been disrespected”.

Hlengwa and fellow MPs also vented their frustration at the government for having achieved so little to solve municipal non-payment, especially in the light of Eskom’s financial crisis. MPs in general are fed-up with the failure of ministers to attend parliament, especially when asked.

“We are getting used to this tendency of being undermined, but it is not sustainable. If we have to subpoena people then we will do that,” said Hlengwa.

Lungi Mtshali, a spokesperson for Dlamini-Zuma said that the minister had informed the committee that she could only pop in briefly at the committee as she had to attend a cabinet committee at the same time. However, when the start time for the Scopa meeting came round she was unable to leave the cabinet meeting as she was in the process of making a presentation.  

Mtshali said that the minister had previously requested parliamentary committees not to hold meetings requiring ministers that clash with the cabinet schedule, which is published well in advance.