The carnival has come to town
Earlier this month, eThekwini deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala, her ANC councillors and city officials were said to be so joyful, they came close to popping Champagne to celebrate. One would have assumed that either the municipality had been named best-run in the world, or revelry was still on the go following the September announcement of eThekwini being selected host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
No, and no. Shabalala and co’s merrymaking was of a different kind. eThekwini had just received news from the Auditor-General (AG) that the council had received a clean financial audit.
“Finally, we have a clean audit,” Shabalala was quoted as saying, to humongus applause from said party colleagues and city officials.
“Our clean audit is not a clean audit just because we are saving money; it is because of the services we are providing to the community. Some of the municipalities that brag about clean audits ... are not even spending the money. Of course [we can boast] we have the accolades on the quality of life. With that, congratulations, team. A lot of loudmouths will now be shut.” More cheering. Given that this was the city’s first clean audit in 16 years, perhaps it was worth all the carousing.
Three months earlier, deputy minister in the presidency Buti Manamela had called a press briefing to tell South Africa and the world “of the milestone achieved by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA)”. The occasion? To celebrate the fact that the agency had delivered its first clean audit report since its formation back in 2008.
The NYDA has long been known as an employment agency for the ANC Youth League and its cronies, with little or nothing to show for actually developing youth in a country where unemployment is sky-high.
But it was in October when the clean audit carnival shot to new heights. Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula told reporters: “A clean audit is not child’s play. People work hard for this. A clean audit to us means other departments can also achieve it.”
This our minister announced in Pretoria after being awarded a medal by the AG’s office for his department’s clean 2014/15 audit outcome.
Mbalula went on: “If sports and recreation’s Razzmatazz can get it [the clean audit], all of us in government can make it ... I am very excited about the clean audit. It is the envy of every department ... We achieved the same status last year and we are maintaining it. This shows we have vision, brain power and capacity to govern in our own department. It is a great result.”
By now you must be asking yourself where I am going with this. Does anyone remember 2009, when government launched Operation Clean Audit 2014? It was aimed at ensuring all municipalities and provincial departments received clean audits by 2014 – at least when it came to financial reporting, performance reporting and compliance.
A noble and ambitious programme, it failed to deliver on its mandate, but there is a silver lining: municipalities are at least attempting to be accountable for what is expected of them.
The programme simply expected municipalities to keep receipts for every bit of spending conducted and ensure that procurement processes were followed to the letter. But for most municipalities, the same audit outcomes are announced annually by the AG’s office: financial management is in disarray and, in some instances, the books are so bad that auditors fail to even give an opinion.
And in the midst of all this come the revellers, à la Shabalala, Manamela and Razzmatazz, as Mbalula is affectionately known.
What exactly are they so ecstatic about? Officials in government departments, municipalities and state-owned companies should, by their very portfolios, be accountable for how they spend the public purse. It goes without saying that this entails following correct procedures when awarding tenders rather than deciding them based on highly placed connections, and keeping meticulous records of every procurement. This sounds easy to do and, indeed, it should be easy. Well, not according to the AG’s figures. We still have departments that are unable, or unwilling, to do the simple task of receipt keeping. Do these officials not want to carouse with their eThekwini counterparts, Manamela, Mbalula et al?
Not to be a party-pooper but, in my humble opinion, being self-congratulatory casts aspersions on those officials who think they have done great jobs by just obtaining clean audit reports. Do they not realise these reports are part and parcel of their portfolios? Have any of these esteemed heads asked themselves what real difference they make to the lives of South Africans daily?
This hype reminds me of the way we laud our top goal scorers in the PSL every year, despite their inability to break the 10-year record of 35 goals that Collins “The Hurricane” Mbesuma, then a Kaizer Chiefs striker, scored in all competitions.
All sound, with little substance.
Perhaps those of us trying to help or do good are the very people who need to listen most