Being the Auditor-General of South Africa must be one of the most frustrating experiences, but at least the incumbent, Tsakani Maluleke, doesn’t need to be told this, as she was deputy to the late Kimi Makwetu for six years before taking on the role.
She knows first-hand the frustration of having to tell government the same thing over and over again ad nauseam.
When Maluleke presented the results of her first audit of national and provincial governments this week, the same issues that had been raised by Makwetu for six years – and Terence Nombembe before him – came up.
Irregular expenditure fell from almost R70 billion last year to R54.3 billion, but she said there was “absolutely no reason to celebrate” this development because a third of the audited departments and entities had not fully disclosed.
Maluleke’s Groundhog Day consisted of all the familiar offences, which saw only 26% of auditees getting clean audits.
There was failure to comply with supply chain management legislation and other legislation governing the management of public finances; expenditure far outstripped revenue; there was missing and incomplete information in the documents given to the auditors; suppliers were overpaid; and there was an inability to collect debt.
Quite worrisome for a government that is still stubbornly obsessing about implementing the National Health Insurance system is that provincial health departments had R147 billion worth of litigation action against them, with R105 billion involving medical negligence claims.
With no funds to settle claims, these departments are rolling them over and starting the next financial year in the red.
Those who have occupied the Auditor-General’s office have done their utmost to ensure that public finances are spent properly, and that the legislative and regulatory prescripts are complied with.
They have lobbied for and received extra powers of enforcement and are now using them.
However, they have been up against noncompliance that is often used as a cover for more nefarious activities by officials and politicians. Reversing this culture will be key to winning the fight against wastage, unaccountability and corruption.
Maluleke can only do so much with the powers and resources at her disposal.
Political principals have to come on board and do some heavy lifting.