WATCH­ING OVER THE WATCH­DOGS

Finweek English Edition - - Companies & markets -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.