South Africa’s abysmal audit record

In an ideal world, the government works for the people

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In an ideal world, the government works for the people. Basic services are provided to all the citizens of the country. Taxes are used for their intended purposes. Everything works and the people are put first.

Sadly, we do not live in an ideal world. Far from it. The reality of the situation in South Africa is that corruption and the misappropriation of funds are major problems that we constantly face. They conspire to rob the people of the most basic of services and leave the majority in a state of hopelessness. Sadly, it also breeds an attitude of ”If they don’t care, why should I?”

The problems do not stop there. When governments are bailed out because of their misuse of funds, debt rises, creating a cycle, which appears to not have a light at the end of the tunnel. This is far from ideal and is a major factor in the R3-trillion debt that South Africa faces today.

In the latest report released by the Auditor-General (AG), Thembekile Kimi Makwetu, the Democratic Alliance-run Western Cape came out on top with 83% clean audits, while Gauteng came in second with 52% clean audits. At the other end of the spectrum, the African National Congress-run Free State had 0% clean audits while the North West and Limpopo had just 5% clean audits each. In total, across all provinces, over R51 billion in irregular expenditure was uncovered—and that does not include the audits of state-owned enterprises.

This is simply not good enough, according to Makwetu, who has blamed those in charge for not listening to the advice of his department.

Following the release of the report, Makwetu said: “As our latest report reveals, various role players have been slow in implementing and, in certain instances, even blatantly disregard our recommendations. As a result, there is a limited improvement in accountability for government spending and the risks we have been highlighting for a number of years are starting to materialise.

“In our previous reports, we said that the slow response by management to our messages was the main root cause of poor audit outcomes, but our experience over the past year is that management at 28% of the auditees with poor audit outcomes are just not responding at all.

“Those who have received and maintained positive audit results continue to demonstrate that wholesale clean administration and accountability in the public sector are possible, if only we can focus on doing the basics right. We remain committed to working tirelessly (within our mandate) and with all those charged with governance and oversight to strengthen financial and performance management in national and provincial government.”

No audit will ever come back 100% clean. The reality is that things happen beyond the control of those in charge but when you look at the fact that some provinces came back with 0% and 5% clean audits, there is cause for major concern. The question also needs to be asked: why it is possible for one province to hit 83% clean audits, while the others struggle?

According to the Western Cape Finance Minister, Dr Ivan Meyer, it all boils down to a desire to ensure the people of the province are looked after to the best of his government’s ability.

“We remain committed to a clean administration and the audit results bear not only testimony to this but also justifies the confidence the people of the Western Cape have in this government,” Meyer told IOL towards the end of 2018.

The Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, echoed Meyer’s views: ”At the core of this government’s brand lies good financial governance. The quality of our audits confirms the high standard of financial management within the Western Cape public sector.”

So, why is it that the Western Cape can get it relatively right with 83% clean audits, while the rest of the country lags behind significantly?

For Makwetu, accountability is the key to improving the rather abysmal results.

“When we released the 2011-12 municipal audit outcomes in August 2013, we highlighted, among others, a lack of decisive leadership to address the lack of accountability... we reported weaknesses in internal control and the risks that needed attention in local government by providing root causes for audit findings and recommendations to remedy these underlying causes,” he told City Press.

”It is now five years later and we are still faced with the same accountability and governance challenges we had flagged throughout these years.

”There has been no significant positive change towards credible results; instead we are witnessing a reversal in audit outcomes,” he added.

While these results may seem insignificant to your average man on the street, the reality is that it filters down directly to the services they receive from their local government. It is quite a simple equation—if the money is being spent in a frivolous manner, basic services will suffer, meaning the citizens suffer, making for a rather dire situation. There is always a victim in these scenarios, and that is the people of South Africa.

Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape is a great example of how services are suffering. Tessa Botha, the Councillor of Buffalo City Metro’s ward 4 since 2016, is worried about the lack of service delivery in the city, with the seemingly insignificant service of bush-cutting leading to a rise in crime—which is a big worry.

“Service delivery covers a whole array of issues such as potholes, grass-cutting and bush-clearing, burst pipes, blocked stormwater drains, traffic congestion and lack of traffic-calming measures, illegal dumping and unsatisfactory measures for refuse removal,” Botha told DispatchLIVE during a candid interview.

“I recently had a commitment from the chairperson of infrastructure whereby he informed me that attention would be given to some roads in my ward. Bush-clearing remains a huge challenge due to staffing challenges and the municipality does not have the proper equipment. This becomes a problem as it is the perfect hideout for criminals. There also seems to be a huge challenge with burst pipes due to the crumbling infrastructure, but this is a general problem all around BCM,” she said.

So, if Botha, a government official, is quick to acknowledge the poor infrastructure, lack of equipment and the issues that the non-delivery of services bring to the table, why is the rest of South Africa struggling? Why are those in charge across the board not interested in adhering to the Auditor-General’s advice—or even the advice of their colleagues such as Botha?

Sadly, corruption and the lining of pockets far outweigh the needs of others, and this is clearly becoming a massive problem. Wasteful expenditure, too, is the scourge of the people. It helps no one, bar a privileged few.

So, what is the solution? How can South Africa set this right? How do we move forward?

The reality is that, as Makwetu stresses, accountability is key. Until such a time as those in charge are brought to book for their actions, money will continue to be wasted, and that will continue the cycle of your man on the street not receiving the services he deserves. It is not a luxury to have a working environment around you, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure it is provided, without a second thought. But this is simply not happening.

With the national elections around the corner, it is going to be interesting to see whether the results of the latest audit have any bearing on the vote. Will South Africans look for a change in order to receive the treatment they require or will we see the trend of poor audits and wasteful expenditure continue into another cycle?

The former US President, Barack Obama, once said: ”If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.”

The power really does lie in the hands of those at the polling stations. 

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