WATCHING OVER THE WATCHDOGS
THE INQUIRY INTO OUR so-called democratic watchdogs and similar institutions couldn’t come at a better time. Experience has shown that whatever safeguards are built into a constitution, their efficacy is in the hands of those who appoint the people who run them.
In some cases, that can totally destroy their use. For example, it would be wrong to refer to the office of the Public Protector as a toothless bulldog: toothless Chihuahua would be more like it. While the decline of that office may be politically motivated, the problems of a body such as broadcasting regulator Icasa are rooted in straightforward incompetence and the appointment of unsuitable people.
We apparently spend R3bn/year on those bodies, some of which have no visible function. Yet one of our most effective regulators, retirement fund ombudsman Vuyani Ngalwana, is quitting – in part because he can’t get the odd hundred million or so to do his job properly.
Nor can I imagine a better person to head the inquiry than the amiable, cricket-loving Kader Asmal. He’s not the sort to put up with too much nonsense from mediocre bureaucrats trying to justify their Kafkaesque futility and excessively generous employment packages.
I call the timing particularly good, as this is also the week in which Terence Nombembe, successor and formerly deputy to one of the more pertinacious of our watchdogs, Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, made his first public appearance.
Nombembe was quoted as telling the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts – which is about to start quizzing 40 entities – that qualified audits of Government departments don’t matter too much; they’re really only targets to be aspired to.
Really? How would the financial world operate if 88% of listed companies’ accounts were qualified by their auditors – the figure for Government departments? The answer is: It couldn’t.
In fairness, I shouldn’t quote Nombembe out of context. He added that public bodies must focus on right guidance, support and emphasis and shouldn’t send repetitive results back to Parliament year in, year out. That’s the right message; it shouldn’t be watered down in any way.