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With his lat­est au­dit re­port hav­ing shown in­creas­ing ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture, the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral re­quires ac­count­abil­ity

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

De­spite in­creased ef­forts to get their books in or­der, many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties still can­not – or will not – ac­count for their spend­ing. Be it er­ro­neous or de­lib­er­ate, this be­hav­iour is Au­di­torGen­eral Kimi Mak­wetu’s main con­cern. Af­ter his press brief­ing in Pre­to­ria on Wed­nes­day, when he tabled his au­dit find­ings of the coun­try’s 263 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for the 2015/16 fi­nan­cial year, Mak­wetu told City Press that there were mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that went out of their way to cor­rect mis­takes in their fi­nan­cial re­ports.

“They un­der­stood that, when fi­nan­cial state­ments were found to be in­ac­cu­rate, they would sit with a qual­i­fi­ca­tion if in­ac­cu­ra­cies that had been picked up were not cor­rected,” he said.

“That is one part we find as a key fea­ture in the re­port, which sug­gests this fi­nan­cial management dis­ci­pline.”

Among these were the 49 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with clean au­dits.

How­ever, there were oth­ers – in­clud­ing the 25 that scored dis­claimers, the worst au­dit opinion pos­si­ble – where of­fi­cials did not care at all, pro­vid­ing no records or doc­u­ments to prove how they spent pub­lic money.

One dis­as­trous trend that Mak­wetu high­lighted was the un­prece­dented amount in ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture – R16.8 bil­lion in 2015/16, com­pared with R11.1 bil­lion the pre­vi­ous year.

Fruit­less and waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture was pegged at R901 mil­lion in 2015/16, slightly down from R1.14 bil­lion.

For Mak­wetu, it is high time the trend of ir­re­spon­si­ble spend­ing was stopped.

“Much as we ac­counted for trans­ac­tions on the books, we also have not dealt with com­pli­ance is­sues,” he said.

“What it means is that fu­ture rev­enues ... are go­ing to be nar­row­ing over time.”

He said mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were al­lowed to spend on un­nec­es­sary items or make dou­ble pay­ments to sup­pli­ers be­cause no one pre­vented them from do­ing so. Mak­wetu stressed the ur­gent need to find out whether this hap­pened be­cause coun­cil staff were badly man­aged or poorly qual­i­fied, or be­cause of cru­cial po­si­tions that had not been filled. Mak­wetu has pleaded with Par­lia­ment to ex­tend his pow­ers and al­low his of­fice to ap­proach the Hawks, the Special In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit and the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor to in­ves­ti­gate cir­cum­stances lead­ing to the abuse of funds in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and their en­ti­ties. “We have been shocked many times be­fore, to the point of get­ting numb. Numb in the sense that we have de­vel­oped an ex­pec­ta­tion over the years ... that there is a cat­e­gory of is­sues that will ei­ther not be ad­dressed or will take a long time to ad­dress. What shocked us years ago con­tin­ues to shock us to­day.”

Nor­mally, he added, peo­ple changed when the pain of change be­came greater than the pain of re­main­ing the same.

“So, if some­one says you will be in­ves­ti­gated for ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture, you are not go­ing to wait – you are go­ing to make an ef­fort to ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal is­sue. If you de­cide to remain the same, it means that this ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture is good for you.”

Some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties had re­mained stuck with dis­claimer au­dits for years, while cer­tain of­fi­cials had not given au­di­tors ev­i­dence of any spend­ing be­cause they knew that there would be no con­se­quences.

“What is the in­cen­tive to sweat and clean up an en­vi­ron­ment that po­ten­tially feeds you?” Mak­wetu asked.

“For as long as those things remain a dom­i­nant fea­ture of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ ac­counts, the real­ity is that a lot of money will go miss­ing. What gives rise to all of these is­sues is that the con­trols needed to de­tect and pre­vent the re­cur­rence of ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture are still very weak.”

CON­CERNED Au­di­tor-Gen­eral Kimi Mak­wetu

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