This article first appeared in Moneyweb.
It’s hard to find a kernel of good news in the auditor-general’s (AG) 2018 report on provincial and national departments, other than the Western Cape and Gauteng leading the way in terms of financial accountability.
Elsewhere, the results are mostly dreadful. Only 23% of the entities audited had clean audits. The Western Cape is way ahead of everyone else with 83% of audits in the province proclaimed “clean”, but even here there was some slippage.
In Gauteng, where irregular expenditure remains a problem, the figure was 53%. This does not necessarily mean money spent was wasted or the result of fraud – it could mean that correct processes were not followed.
One has to empathise with AG Kimi Makwetu’s near-impossible task of pointing out and curtailing misspending at government level. Being an auditor is no longer a safe occupation in SA. A female auditor working as part of a team dispatched by the AG to clean up maladministration in Emfuleni Municipality, south of Joburg, was shot twice in the leg two months ago in the guest house where she was staying. The assailants made off with two laptops and a cell phone, all presumably containing vital information on wrongdoing at the municipality. Makwetu decided to withdraw his team.
Last month two AG staff members were held hostage by subcontractors in Tshwane when they were conducting routine asset verifications. An audit team sent to eThekwini was withdrawn in May after one of its staff members received death threats. Police must now accompany audit staff on dangerous assignments.
It’s clear from the report released on Wednesday that Makwetu is not the most popular man in SA’s administrative ranks. In his report, he says provinces and administrators prefer to contest his audit results rather than address the problems identified.
The number of departments reporting fruitless and wasteful expenditure was up 10%, and most of these have been on the list for the last three years. Even more disturbing is the 200% increase in fruitless and wasteful expenditure over the last year to R2.5 billion. Audited irregular expenditure came to R51 billion, but nearly R80 billion when entities not audited are included.