Newsmaker – Kimi Makwetu: A hard, endless fight

2014-12-01 06:00

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Auditor-General (AG) Kimi Makwetu today celebrates one year at the helm of one of South Africa’s most respected institutions.

But judging by the poor audit performance recorded by government departments this week, Makwetu will be keeping the bubbly on ice.

Since joining the AG’s office as deputy Auditor-General in 2007, the Cape Town-born father of three has seen the institution through highs and lows – including run-ins with defiant senior bureaucrats and politicians who simply refuse to accept their departments’ poor scores.

The 48-year-old, a former director of Deloitte’s forensic unit, has kept his cool, though it must have been difficult sometimes.

In an interview at his Pretoria office with City Press last week, Makwetu discussed how some civil servants had reacted badly to this week’s audit outcome for 469 provincial and national departments and their entities.

He made the example of senior managers who rebelled against his auditors giving their department a poor score for their spending of taxpayers’ money.

Makwetu didn’t name the department, but said tensions between it and his team were so extreme it took intervention from the Cabinet minister responsible for the department to bring the two parties together.

The AG would not change the department’s audit results, or be told how he should conduct an audit.

The two parties met and resolved the impasse.

Makwetu said his team would not be shaken by any criticism. Their job was to make sure departments tasked with spending public money were kept on their toes and followed the rules.

“By [bowing to pressure], you’re shaking off those that might want to continue doing funny things in the financial books – because they know the audit is just going to select a certain number of transactions at the end of the year and might miss the ones they dealt with.

“So we are putting pressure on them in an indirect way, to say ‘We’re watching you’,” said Makwetu, who lives in Joburg.

He’s not pleased that his team’s work – spending lots of time with both administrators and politicians, showing them what the law allows and how good financial governance is done – has translated into only a handful of good examples.

“We have been throughout the country, in between audits, to sensitise the political heads and accounting officers on some of the basic systems of accounting disciplines and controls,” Makwetu said.

“We’ve done that over the years and still the audit outcomes are not really a reflection of people who have acted on our advice.”

He may not be cracking open the Champagne, but Makwetu is hopeful things can change.

He wants better accountability from political leaders and administrators, and aims to turn around poor performance in the coming years.

“Our aspiration over the next 10 years is to see a public sector characterised by credible and transparent financial reporting.”

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