Government owes SMEs more than R3bn

Provincial government owes a staggering R3.2 billion to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) due to its continued failure to comply with its own policy of paying invoices within 30 days.

This revelation of late payment shows that the government has failed to keep its longstanding pledge to prioritise payments to SMEs.


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The biggest culprit is the Eastern Cape, which by the end of December 2020 had failed to pay its SME suppliers more than R2 billion within 30 days of receiving invoices. Next is Gauteng, which owed SMEs more than R389 million.

This was disclosed in an answer to a parliamentary question posed by DA shadow minister of Public Service and Administration, Dr Leon Schreiber.

The situation didn’t improve much in the first three months of 2021.

The information states that by the end of March, only 8% of the amounts in arrears was paid. Of the R3.2 billion in arrears at the end of December, R2.94 billion remained unpaid.

Read: Corporates commit to paying SME suppliers within 30 days (Nov 2020)

The worst performing provincial departments were health and education. Three provinces – the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga – did not make any payments to the affected SMEs in the first quarter of the year.

Failing to catch up at paying up

Provincial government Amount in arrears as at Dec 31, 2020 Amount in arrears as at Mar 31, 2021 %
Northern Cape R517 636 R517 636 100%
Western Cape R600 546 R600 546 100%
Mpumalanga R97 788 753 R97 788 753 100%
Eastern Cape R2 114 327 450 R2 025 125 297 96%
North West R351 858 302 R327 595 920 93%
Gauteng R389 973 533 R342 257 759 88%
KwaZulu-Natal R104 363 510 R71 235 451 68%
Limpopo R28 471 372 R18 000 716 63%
Free State R112 778 551 R64 549 129 57%
R3 200 679 654  R2 947 671 207  92%

National government

At the end of December 2020, national departments had failed to make payments amounting to R417 million to SMEs within 30 days.

The worst offenders were the Department of Water and Sanitation (including the Water Trading Entity), which did not pay SMEs an amount due of R357 million within the 30-day policy, followed by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (including the Property Management and Trading Entity), which owed R51 million.

National departments’ failure to pay on time (figures as at December 31, 2020)

Water and Sanitation, including the Water Trading Entity R357 636 505
Public Works and Infrastructure ,including the PMTE R51 673 929
Mineral Resources and Energy R4 311 452
Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities R1 712 016
Statistics South Africa R832 404
Home Affairs R636 813
Police R71 674
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs R17 850
R416 892 642

Read: Government owes construction contractors R5.5bn (Sep 2019)

In 2016, former minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe issued an executive statement expressing the government’s inability to support small businesses and the direct effect this has on the broader economy.

“We have come to discover that many of the small businesses that we wished to advance were actually being placed in financial distress, grave jeopardy, and prolonged hardship by the late payments for goods and services, especially by government,” the statement said.

It added that “small business continues to remain vulnerable and is not realising its full potential to contribute to growth and employment”.

In response to the DA’s questions, National Treasury said: “[We] are in the process of finalising a guideline on payments within 30 days to assist accounting officers with measures to implement [and] to improve the level of compliance and pay invoices on time and also [to] improve their internal control systems in relation to processes and procedures to be followed when effecting payments.”

Treasury added that officials visited certain provinces to ‘encourage’ those transgressing “government departments at various levels to adhere to commitments made on payment of invoices within the stipulated 30-day period as a critical element to support SMMEs who do business with the state”.

Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern.