Sunday Times

Auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke on a ‘properly profession­alised’ civil service

Competence, stability and accountabi­lity are crucial, says Maluleke


Auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke says that SA needs a “properly profession­alised” civil service characteri­sed by stability, competence and a culture of performanc­e and accountabi­lity.

Without this there will be no real progress against the massive irregular and wasteful expenditur­e that continues to plague the public sector and deplete the fiscus.

“Beyond competence what we’re seeing as a real issue is stability. If directors-general and chief financial officers don’t stay long enough in their roles to build a competent team around them and a discipline­d set of controls you really can’t make any sustainabl­e gains,” says Maluleke.

The issue of tenure is problemati­c and it is up to the politician­s to address it, she says.

“All our leaders across both spheres of government need to understand the impact of this level of instabilit­y.

“Government institutio­ns need to be characteri­sed by performanc­e and a critical part of that is stability at key levels.”

The 2019/20 government audit outcomes report Maluleke tabled last week showed irregular expenditur­e of R54bn. This is down from R66bn the year before but only because almost a third of government department­s and state-owned enterspris­es (SOEs) failed to disclose irregular expenditur­e, she says.

“The truth is it hasn’t improved much. The discipline­s and financial controls that ought to characteri­se how procuremen­t is done are not there.

“As a consequenc­e contracts are issued without going out to tender, or they’re extended beyond the allowable period and the allowable amount, quotes are not properly sourced, specificat­ions are not implemente­d the way they were designed — the same sort of matters my predecesso­r reported on.”

In 2017 the late Kimi Makwetu reported irregular expenditur­e of R45bn, which he said would have been R65bn if there had been proper reporting.

The controls were not in place, Makwetu said. They’re still not in place, says Maluleke, who was his deputy for seven years before being appointed AG in November 2020.

“They’re not there, they’re not adequate, they’re not being implemente­d effectivel­y.

“When things go wrong people are not swift to detect that they’ve gone wrong. And when they are detected the consequenc­es that ought to follow are not being applied.”

That is the role of the accounting officer, the DG, the head of department and, in public entities, the board.

The Public Finance Management Act and Public Audit Act amendment place them at the centre of accountabi­lity, Maluleke says.

“They’re the ones who should have the controls in place, who should respond if there’s an audit issue that comes up. By taking action, whether cancelling a contract that has been investigat­ed and confirmed to be problemati­c, recovering losses, disciplini­ng their officials internally and fixing the controls that had failed.”

If accounting officers don’t play their role then it is MECs and cabinet ministers who should be supervisin­g them to ensure that they do, she adds.

And it is parliament that should be holding these politician­s accountabl­e if they’re not doing this.

The figures presented by Maluleke demonstrat­e quite clearly that this is not happening nearly enough.

“But we are seeing that the legislatur­es in different provinces and the National Assembly are starting to play a stronger role in holding accounting officers to account, and that executive authoritie­s are starting to do more.

“The central point though is that we’ve got to get accounting officers who are competent appointed and staying in their roles long enough to have the impact they should.

“You can draw a direct line between the tenure of an accounting officer and CFO on the one hand and audit outcomes on the other.”

In short, what the country needs is a “properly profession­alised” civil service, she says. “One that is characteri­sed by skills and stability, and where there is a culture of performanc­e and consequenc­es for poor performanc­e

and transgress­ions.”

Is she saying the civil service needs to be depolitici­sed?

“We’re saying that the civil service needs to be profession­alised and given space to deliver,” she responds.

“The accounting officer needs to be accountabl­e to the political leadership but needs to take charge of the administra­tion, the people who are employed, systems, consequenc­es, performanc­e and delivery.”

Meanwhile, new powers given to her office two years ago are making themselves felt. “We’re seeing a greater level of responsive­ness. Many accounting officers are taking the action they need to.”

But beyond responding to specific irregulari­ties they need to look at the internal controls that are failing to prevent these irregulari­ties.

“Only then do you lessen the chances of a repeat offence.”

They also need to be better at implementi­ng consequenc­es such as recovering lost funds, cancelling dodgy contracts, reporting matters to law enforcemen­t and disciplini­ng offenders.

Her office now has the power to refer cases for investigat­ion, which it did most spectacula­rly during its “real time” audits of Covid-19 transactio­ns when the personal protective equipment cases which horrified the nation were referred to the Special Investigat­ing Unit (SIU).

These were dealt with quickly but more “historical matters” have not been given the same treatment, she says.

“Matters we refer at the end of an audit are taking a long time.”

The AG’s new powers do not include the power to refer cases to private investigat­ive agencies if the SIU, Hawks and SAPS take too long.

Maluleke says there’s been a reduction in

instances of intimidati­on of her auditors by government department­s and SOEs but suspects this may be because the working at home arrangemen­t necessitat­ed by Covid-19 created fewer opportunit­ies for it to happen.

She’s concerned that the intimidati­on may return to pre-pandemic levels and discourage the highly qualified individual­s she wants to attract to the AG’s office.

“Threats to the lives of individual­s who’ve chosen to serve SA in this way, who quite honestly could be doing different work in the private sector within and outside the country but have chosen to do this.

“We’ve got to find ways to push back against these threats because they make it unattracti­ve for our really profession­al teams to be here.

“If we’re unable to stem this tide it’s going to become incredibly difficult to recruit and still more difficult to retain the kind of people we need.”

The controls are not adequate, they’re not being implemente­d effectivel­y

Tsakani Maluleke Auditor-general

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 ?? Picture: Freddy Mavunda ?? Auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke says without a ‘properly profession­alised’ civil service there will be no real progress against the massive irregular and wasteful expenditur­e that continues to plague the public sector and deplete the fiscus.
Picture: Freddy Mavunda Auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke says without a ‘properly profession­alised’ civil service there will be no real progress against the massive irregular and wasteful expenditur­e that continues to plague the public sector and deplete the fiscus.

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