Vote to end corruption – Auditor-General
South Africa’s voters have the power to force politicians to act on irregular, unauthorised and wasteful expenditure “via the ballot box”, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu has said.
After releasing government’s audited financial results this week, Makwetu said the R25.7 billion he reported in irregular expenditure could in reality be far higher. This was because his office had audited only a sample of the tenders and contracts awarded in the 2014/15 financial year.
He said South Africans could not expect him to bring to book those responsible for the irregularities, because his office did not have the power to do so.
Instead, he suggested that during elections voters should hold politicians to account.
“It’s clear to me that [voters should] approach them [politicians] via the ballot box,” said Makwetu.
Addressing the National Council of Provinces this week, President Jacob Zuma vowed action would be taken against government officials who failed to adhere to the Public Finance Management Act.
“We also agree with the Auditor-General that there should be consequences for bad management,” said Zuma, adding that he had instructed ministers to ensure officials followed the law when they spent state money. Otherwise they had to face the consequences.
Makwetu said significant changes had been made in the “handful” of cases where political leaders had acted and investigated improprieties.
But for most of the irregularities identified in the 468 provincial and national departments and state entities, there had been “no consequences”.
“The reason we know this is that when we go back the next year, we find an environment that is no different to that which we found the previous year.”
He said his office found the same officials in their jobs. “Our conclusion is that [politicians] did not act – or if [they] acted, [they] did not act decisively – because this is why the situation remains the way it is.”
Despite the Auditor-General’s office “red-flagging” hundreds of billions of rands in the past few years as irregular, fruitless, wasteful and unauthorised expenditure, rogue civil servants have faced little sanction.
“What it is to us is a red flag, which says: ‘Open your eyes, you who are charged with governance.’”
Makwetu welcomed suggestions by Paul Hoffman of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa that government should create an independent integrity commission to investigate corruption.
But he said such a commission needed to be independent to be effective.
“I think it’s important to have that institution ... to put pressure on the politicians to act,” said Makwetu.
He warned that government’s central supplier database for all tenders, which started this year, could be “as good as a waste of money and time” if leaders remained inactive. “The question really is, after all these efforts and the enhancements, the one standard test ... is whether those entrusted with the leadership role of governance act on it or not,” he said.
Makwetu said a failure to implement the recommendations made by watchdog offices such as the Public Protector, and the death of investigative units such as the Scorpions, proved investigative bodies needed to be independent of government.
“You can see for yourself when you look at things like investigations done in various places like the [Special Investigating Unit] over the years, that there’s no shortage of them. It was the Scorpions within the [National Prosecuting Authority],” he said.
“It would be interesting to see how many investigative reports are sitting in various places without any visible action.”
Makwetu said government was “reckless” in the manner it used consultants who were “milking” the state in a “free for all”.
“Anyone and everyone can go in and be a consultant,” he said. “The barriers of entry are low.” Government had to prioritise greater oversight in the abuse of consultancy services and ensure civil servants declared their financial interests.
The health, education and public works departments accounted for almost half (R435 billion) of the country’s R1.1 trillion budget. The health department racked up R400 million in irregular expenditure, basic education incurred R728 million and public works R55 million.
“When their financial conclusions are as negative as they are, you start having worries about whether the objectives – for which education and health are supposed to be funded – are being achieved or not.
“I think the evidence is that in a number of those clinics and schools, the stuff that needs to be delivered doesn’t get done, and the reason for it is also shown through the audits,” said Makwetu.
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