AG needs powers with bite
Shock, anger and disappointment have become synonymous with the annual release of audit outcomes of national and provincial government departments and state-owned companies.
This week was no exception when Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu revealed that wasteful and irregular expenditure had jumped by 80% to R46.36 billion for the year to March. Of the 484 entities audited, 152 received clean audits and a concern was that 32 others, which had obtained clean audits the year before, regressed this time around.
For years, the Auditor-General’s office has pointed out the basic things departments and entities should do to achieve positive outcomes. These include improving financial controls; effective leadership and monitoring achievement of performance targets; and reviewing and monitoring compliance with key laws and legislation over financial matters.
Makwetu said: “Had these simple actions, aimed at improving internal control systems and eliminating governance risks and other concerns raised by our office, been implemented with relentless vigour, we would be reporting muchimproved audit results today.”
The lack of interest by those in leadership of those departments and entities to heed Makwetu’s call gives credence to proposals that the Auditor-General be given more teeth.
Currently, the Auditor-General’s report is a recommendation for those audited institutions to use as a guideline. Recommendations are not binding and this has created the problem where those audited continue to act with impunity.
Said Makwetu: “This effort has not had the desired impact of discouraging unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, as well as fraud and improper conduct.”
ANC MP Vincent Smith, who chairs Parliament’s committee that oversees the Auditor-General, said they were concerned about the slow responses to the recommendations, adding that there was a need to investigate the Auditor-General’s powers and see if they could not be strengthened like those of other chapter 9 institutions.
Fortunately, Parliament is empowered to tighten those powers and that time has come. Otherwise, the Auditor-General will sound like a broken record.