Education is the ‘weakest link’

2016-10-16 18:00
no disclaimers Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle, and A-G Kimi Makwetu in Bhisho Legislature. Photo Lubabalo Ngcukana/ City Press PHOTO:

no disclaimers Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle, and A-G Kimi Makwetu in Bhisho Legislature. Photo Lubabalo Ngcukana/ City Press PHOTO:

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The department of education in the Eastern Cape was described as “the weakest link” this week, after receiving a qualified audit from Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, who found irregular expenditure amounting to R1.3 billion.

Presenting the province’s audit outcomes for the 2015/16 financial year at the Bhisho legislature, Makwetu singled out the beleaguered education department, saying the information provided to him was limited in scope and that the department had not maintained proper accounting principles.

The Eastern Cape was the first province to be visited by the Auditor-General, who is on a nationwide roadshow presenting audit outcomes.

He was also in KwaZulu-Natal this week and is scheduled to present to the rest of South Africa’s provinces over the next few weeks.

Makwetu’s spokesperson, Africa Boso, said the report presented to KwaZulu-Natal MPs was an “interim” one, and was likely to change before Makwetu presented his report to Parliament next month.

The preliminary findings indicated that KwaZulu-Natal’s standards of financial governance among government departments had slipped, with only one receiving a clean bill of health for the 2015/16 financial year.

A senior provincial government source, who asked not to be named, said the Auditor-General indicated that only the provincial Treasury had received a clean audit. He described the other departments as having worsened in terms of “wasteful and irregular expenditure”.

But it was not all doom and gloom in the Eastern Cape as Makwetu handed out achievement awards for the best performing and most improved departments and entities. These included Treasury, the East London Industrial Development Zone and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency.

The education department is the biggest consumer of the Eastern Cape’s provincial budget, taking a 45% slice.

A silver lining is that the province recorded a reduction in irregular expenditure over three years – down from R2.6 billion in the 2013/14 financial year to R1.4 billion for 2014/15.

But, cautioned Makwetu, this irregular expenditure might not be the final figure recorded as the education department was “qualified only on the irregular expenditure that was disclosed”.

A further R857 million in potential irregular expenditure was still under investigation.

Other areas of significant noncompliance identified by the Auditor-General included:

. Three departments that had awarded tenders to staff members, to the value of R33 million;

. Tenders to the tune of R67 million, awarded to close relatives of members of staff in seven other departments and state entities; and

. At least 12 departments and entities that had awarded tenders – valued at R197 million – to civil servants who did not declare their employment status.

Makwetu told City Press that a lack of coordination between the education department’s head office and district offices, poor record-keeping practices and the failure to implement action plans to address the previous year’s findings were contributing to the repeat qualified audits. Some schools and districts failed “to keep accurate records” of simple things such as the number of pupils enrolled.

He recommended that key personnel be appointed and appropriate performance management systems be instituted to turn things around. Also, emphasis should be placed on communication and coordination between the head office and district offices.

Makwetu commended Premier Phumulo Masualle and Speaker Noxolo Kiviet for availing themselves during the auditing period to deal with issues escalated to them.

“The leadership of the province is commended for this achievement. There were no disclaimers or adverse opinions for the third year in a row,” he said.

Masualle welcomed the audit outcomes on behalf of government, saying efforts directed at ensuring a clean administration were beginning to bear fruit.

“I cannot say it is enough, nor do we consider this to be what we should be satisfied with, but we appreciate the positive aspects as it reflects the progress made thus far,” he said.

Read more on:    education department  |  kimi makwetu  |  auditor general

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