Parliament’s watchdog on public accounts on Tuesday resolved to haul the accounting officers of municipalities who repeatedly had adverse audit findings made against them before MPs to account for financial mismanagement, corruption, and other malfeasance.
Officials from the auditor-general’s (AG) office briefed the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), outlining the deterioration in audit outcomes which saw that only 18 of the 257 municipalities assessed received clean audits.
Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa told African News Agency on the sidelines of the meeting: “We have set in motion now a process where particularly the 17 repeat offender municipalities who have had adverse or disclaimer findings for over three years will be prioritised by the committee for hearings so that they can come and account for the fact that they are in such a mess.
“This will require Cogta [department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs] as a department to come and appear before us and explain the extent to which their interventions have gone and we need to understand whether the interventions are producing the necessary results.”
MPs were told that 12 of the municipalities with clean audits were in the Western Cape, two in the Eastern Cape and one each in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape, and Mpumalanga. Not a single municipality in the Free State, Limpopo and the North West provinces achieved a clean audit.
The percentage of municipalities which had findings against them for non-compliance with supply chain management policies increased from 72% to 82%.
Irregular expenditure remains a multibillion-rand problem, and although a slight decrease was recorded from R29.7 billion to R25.2 billion, Makwetu said this picture could change.
Hlengwa said the AG should not hesitate when using his new powers, following the adoption of amendments to the Public Audit Act, to take action against those who continue to ignore binding recommendations by the AG.
“What we have told the AG today is that, look, they have to get the ball rolling. They have been wanting these powers. These powers have now been granted to them so there’s no need to dilly dally, there’s no need to walk on eggshells.”
In terms of the amendments, a recommendation by the AG that a material irregularity be rectified will now be binding and a deadline for implementation will be set. If no action is forthcoming, AG Kimi Makwetu could issue a certificate of debt in the name of the municipal council or manager to repay the amount of money in question.
MPs expressed concern at the increase in threats and intimidation during municipal audits. Last year, an official from the AG’s office was shot while investigating the Emfuleni Municipality in Vanderbijlpark. The AG was forced to withdraw staff and conduct the audit remotely.
“The escalation of threats and intimidation are an indication of the extent to which corruption is prevalent. It is because the auditors are unearthing, uncovering the corrupt, the fraudulent and maladministrative processes which are at play in municipalities and so that is why they are at the receiving end of the intimidation,” said Hlengwa.
“We are expecting the law enforcement agencies and intelligence sector to be able to identify these things. Early detection is very important so we can protect auditors. Auditing is a risky job and of course, we [are] not ignorant to the fact that political killings generally arise out of the contestation of power as far as tender processes are concerned.”
– African News Agency