The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has sent out a strong message to municipalities that it will go all out to recoup billions of rand owed to it.

Municipalities owed the department about R11billion after failing to pay their water bills.

The department recently won its litigation against the Madibeng local municipality in the high court in Pretoria.

The court ordered the municipality to pay the department over R32million it owed for water use charges and a further R13.7m for water research levies.

Madibeng was also ordered to pay costs of the department’s lawyers.

Municipalities not only owed the national government for water, but their Eskom debt reached R17bn in November.

The DWS announced in November that municipalities owed it R13.1bn. spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said that the debt now stood at R11bn.

“It is important to know that this figure is a moving target (fluctuates) and is not fixed,” added Ratau.

He would not state how many municipalities were in debt, but said the figure changed often.

Ratau said while the department continued to speak to municipalities about their debt through government platforms, it kept open its options to recoup the money through other avenues.

“The department continues to engage all its debtors, especially municipalities, through the Inter-Governmental Relations Framework to find common ground towards the eradication of the debt that is owed,” said Ratau.

“All debtors are engaged towards the realisation of monies owed. A court action is a very last resort after all other forms of engagement have not borne fruit.

“Each entity is engaged and different outcomes may be arrived at,” said Ratau.