GOVERNMENT should be held accountable when it fails in its mandated responsibility to use taxpayers’ money to benefit South African citizens directly. The Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), a non-profit civil rights group, is working to fulfil its vision of a prosperous country, free from the abuse of authority and governed with the efficient use of tax revenue, but the organisation’s KZN provincial manager, Tim Tyrrell, said they cannot do this alone. “It is through collective action and it is through civil action, and it’s through the ordinary people among us standing up and saying enough and no more; that is when things will turn around. We have to push back as citizens. We have to say, you guys [government] are not giving us what we pay you for.” He said South Africans fund the government through the taxes that they pay, whether it’s deducted from their salaries or VAT and even rates.“You pay your taxes, you are entitled to decent government services and we will try our very best to see that they are exactly that,” said Tyrrell.As part of its work in holding all spheres of government to account, Outa engages and challenges the state where it sees that taxpayers’ money is not used in the correct manner. It also conducts investigations into government activities where there are allegations of misuse of public funds. Tyrrell said they have not won the war but have been victorious in some battles. He said there are a series of battles now under way and he feels that Outa’s work is making a difference in terms of how the country is governed.“It’s important that civil society stands up and makes its voice heard. It’s been a long time now that we’ve had to put up with misinformation, disinformation and frankly, too much abuse and corruption.” He said he is very pleased that under the mantle of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “new dawn”, issues of graft, maladministration and wasteful expenditure are coming to the fore. Tyrrell said Outa’s work is often seen as adversarial and therefore leads to them butting heads with those who have something to hide. He said at times they are challenged and there have even been attempts to shut them out when they have tried to get information but the Outa team have not let all of this deter them because they know what is at stake, in terms of the rights of South Africans, if they do not do their part in holding government to account. “At times you find people are not cooperative because they fear exposure but we also find officials, and there many of them, who are well-orientated and professional and we get lots of co-operation and positive help. It’s a mixed bag and depends on who we’re talking to but certainly it’s a worthwhile endeavour and we are a very energised organisation and we attack issues with great enthusiasm.” One of the projects that is consuming much of Outa KZN’s energy is what Tyrrell described as the leadership crisis in eThekwini. He said it is widely known that there are several challenges facing Mayor Zandile Gumede, with criminal charges related to tender fraud against her. While she has been placed on special leave, Outa has been vocal in its protest against the ANC’s decision not to remove her from office.LOCAL GOVERNMENTTyrrell said Outa is concerned about the level of corruption and maladministration reported in local government. He said it is common knowledge that these problems stem from Jacob Zuma’s tenure as president, where good governance was not prioritised and was even sabotaged. He said KZN obviously faces the severe problem of municipalities not being properly managed, which has led to the province managing to secure only one clean audit for the 2017/18 financial year. Poor leadership and management, Tyrrel said, are mostly to blame for municipalities finding themselves under administration. The province has nine municipalities, including Msunduzi and Richmond, where the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) has intervened and sent its ministerial representatives to steer the ship in the right direction as councils have reportedly failed in their mandates. “We are very concerned about the state of local government as a whole. Some local authorities are better than others but KZN is particularly bad if you compare it with the national performance. We have another peculiar challenge and that is the provincial government has a constitutionally defined oversight role to play in all of this. “Take Msunduzi, for example. The fact that it’s now under administration for the second time in 10 years speaks volumes and it immediately begs the question — where has provincial government been in all of this and why is it not exercising a firm and decisive oversight role?”Asked what he thinks the answer to that question is, Tyrrell said he does not think anyone has a direct answer but his view is that they are “either unwilling or unable or both”.On the challenges facing Msunduzi, Tyrrell said the administrator, Sibusiso Sithole, has an unenviable job. He said that while Sithole has a clear grasp of what’s going on, “the challenge is not in the analysis of the problem, the challenge is in the execution of his recovery plan”.He said Outa is anxious to get its hands on Sithole’s turnaround strategy in order see what his plan of action will be. “Our role is essentially a constructive one and we will do what we can to offer our support, energies and resources to try to help any well-intentioned official get things right,” he said of Outa’s willingness to support Sithole and other officials in a similar position. LISTEN TO THE AUDITOR-GENERALHe said some of the challenged municipalities did not need to be placed under administration but it is critical that they implement the auditor-general’s recommendations to address the problems they are facing before the situation gets worse. Tyrrell said the auditor-general’s teams go to great pains to put their well-crafted reports together so it is worrying that their professional advice is sometimes not heeded. “The fact that it is either ignored, or because it is so painful nobody acts on it, and it just carries on from year to year and actually gets worse, is terrifying.” He said it has been heartbreaking to watch the province decline steadily over the years. “It’s absolutely tragic. The resources are there, the taxpayers pay their money, the rates and taxes are collected, so it’s not as if there is a breakdown in funding, it’s a breakdown in the deployment of those funds and unfortunately political influences have completely undermined what should be professional public administration.” According to Tyrrell, the traditional concept of a public servant has been undermined by political grandstanding as well as corruption and maladministration. He said people have been appointed to positions they are not qualify for just because they are aligned to a certain political organisation. “It’s awful, it’s terrible and we are doing our best to try to turn that around.”NATIONAL GOVERNMENTTyrrell said he is very pleased with what he has been hearing from Ramaphosa and the commitments the president has made to South Africans. However, he is pessimistic about the challenges that Ramaphosa faces from within his own ranks in government and the ANC in terms of a shared ability to execute. “I think it’s common knowledge that the ANC is deeply split and factionalised so you have forces within that group acting against each other so the opportunity to achieve objectives, and to provide growth, employment and all of the good things this country desperately needs, is being severely curtailed.” He believes that Ramaphosa is the right man for the job but he faces a leadership challenge so he hopes Ramaphosa will be not overpowered by the sheer numbers who will get in his way to try to stop whatever he wants to achieve. “If Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet don’t turn things around within this term of office then I fear that the country is in deep trouble. We already have some very alarming indicators in terms of economic performance and the lack of growth. “The unemployment statistics are also really scary but there is great potential for that to get worse if we carry on doing things the same way we’ve been doing them for the past 10 years. Things have to change and that is the very serious challenge that is facing government right now.”Tyrrell said Outa will do its level best to assist government, even if it means exposing those who are mismanaging the public purse. WHY BLOW THE WHISTLE?Outa relies on the public to provide it with information needed to expose the squandering, maladministration and misuse of taxpayers’ money. Its whistle-blower platform enables anyone to send information while taking every possible measure to protect their identity. The link can be found on Outa’s website at www.outa.co.za Alternatively, people can contact Outa at 087 170 0639 or email@example.comWHO FUNDS OUTA?Outa is a crowd-funded non-profit organisation. Between March 2012 and February 2019, Outa’s donors generated an income of just under R131 million, which was broken down into two distinct areas that define the organisation’s work and support.Outa earned its reputation by acting on behalf of the citizens of Gauteng who were treated unfairly during the implementation of the e-tolling system.Their work has, as a civil organisation, since extended to other components of government. The focus in KZN is on local government and the quality of service that municipalities provide to residents.“We have a very strong support base but we are limited by the amount of money we generate so we are appealing to people to make contributions,” said Tyrrell.