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But the office of the Auditor-General is still waiting to audit 31 state entities, and found deficiencies in 80% of the infrastructure projects it visited. From Moneyweb.

The evidence shows that those entities with good record-keeping, planning and controls have a better foundation on which to deliver the services expected of them. Image: Moneyweb

There’s good news for a change from the Auditor-General’s office – a noticeable improvement in audit outcomes in national and provincial government over the 2023 financial year.

Since introducing its material irregularity (MI) process in 2019 – giving the Auditor-General (AG) powers to pursue accounting officers for misuse of public funds – financial losses of R2.55 billion have been recovered, are in the process of being recovered, or have been prevented.

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Since 2019, a total of 240 material irregularities have been reported, representing a financial loss of R14.34 billion.

There were 26 material irregularities that had non-financial losses, such as health facilities not being used, and public harm caused by neglect of infrastructure.

Tool to improve ‘the use of public resources’

“We used this enforcement tool [material irregularities] to spur accounting officers and authorities into action to strengthen internal controls, institute disciplinary measures, stem resource leakage arising from non-compliant procurement processes, recover funds lost through duplicate payments and overpayments to suppliers, safeguard assets, and improve the use of public resources such that they benefit citizens,” AG Tsakani Maluleke told parliament on Tuesday while tabling the report.

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Unauthorised spending among government departments amounted to R28.2 billion over the four years to 2023, with R4.6 billion coming in the last year.

Irregular expenditure totalled R63.4 billion in 2023, though the AG says the actual figure may be higher. This is spending in violation of regulations or laws.

The latest AG report on national and provincial audit outcomes tells us how much money was spent by these branches of government: R3.1 trillion.

The improvement in the number of clean audits should not be construed as a mark of good service delivery, or even value for money.

It merely shows that the auditee financial statements and performance report provide a transparent and credible reflection of the year under review. But the evidence shows that those with good record-keeping, planning and controls have a better foundation on which to deliver the services expected of them.

As the report states, “a clean audit positions an auditee to transparently communicate to citizens on whether and when their needs will be met through accurate records, which also enables informed decisions by the different role players in the accountability ecosystem”.

“We have seen that auditees with institutionalised controls and systems to plan, measure, monitor and account for their finances and performance, and to stay within the rules, often also have a solid foundation for service delivery to the people of South Africa.”

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There was a 28% improvement in audit outcomes at government departments, and 15% at public entities. Overall, there was a 9% net improvement in audit outcomes, the best result in four years.

Provincial government entities and departments accounted for 24% of the R3.1 trillion expenditure, and demonstrated a gradual upward trend in audit outcomes.

The biggest improvements were in the North West, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape.

The provinces with the most clean audits were the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Clean audits

There were 147 auditees that achieved clean audits during the year, accounting for 16% of the R3.1 trillion budget spent by provincial and national government.

A far larger percentage of this budget (48%) was spent by 162 entities that received unqualified audit opinions with findings, which means there are no material misstatements, but there could be issues of non-compliance with legislation, or concerns around the reporting of predetermined objectives, or both.

Some 36% of the entities audited managed to keep their clean audit status over the past year.

An ongoing concern is the fact that 31 entities have still to be audited, usually because they have not submitted financial statements.

Maluleke urged parliament to pay attention to the delinquents that had failed to submit audits, as required by law, as this translates into a lack of transparency and accountability.

Poor infrastructure oversight

Another issue highlighted by the AG was the poor management of infrastructure projects after on-site visits to 137 of these.

“We identified deficiencies on over 80% of the 137 projects we visited. We have found that, all too often, infrastructure delivery projects are delayed, are costing more than planned or the work done is of poor quality. There are also delays in newly built infrastructure being put to use,” says the AG.

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The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure is responsible for maintaining government properties, including health facilities and police stations, however many of these are in poor condition because of a reactive approach to maintenance.

Most maintenance work is only done in response to emergency requests and little time or budget is spent on preventative maintenance.

There are currently 2 394 unoccupied government properties, most of which have not been maintained and are in a bad state.

“Even though these properties are not used, costs such as property rates and taxes still need to be paid,” says the AG.

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“When there are not enough fit-for-use properties available to departments, the Property Management Trading Entity needs to enter into lease agreements – which could have been avoided if properties had been properly maintained.”