Editorial | Sjambok wayward councils

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Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke.
Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke.


South Africans who were following the release of the 2020/21 audit outcomes for municipalities by the Auditor-General could be forgiven for rolling their eyes and sighing: “Here we go again!”

That familiar picture of dysfunction, gross waste and unbelievable lack of caring we have seen year after year was once more laid bare. The details of Tsakani Maluleke’s report, captured elsewhere in these pages, make you want to say a silent prayer for her and her staff.

READ: Editorial | SA wants the truth - now 

One of the depressing aspects of the report is the use of consultants to fulfil tasks that people have been employed to perform. About 70% of local governments relied on these “consultants” to prepare financial statements, despite these structures having in their employ such specialists as chief financial officers, financial managers and finance staff. The collective bill for consultants was R1.25 billion.

We concur with Maluleke when she states that “the lack of improvement in municipal outcomes is an indictment on the entire local government accountability ecosystem, which failed to act and arrest the decline that continued to be characterised by service delivery challenges”.

As she and her predecessors have done in the past, Maluleke threw down the gauntlet to the political leadership to take responsibility for turning things around. She threw a particular challenge to councils that were elected in November to take an active interest in putting paid to the bad practices of the past.

READ: Monde Ndlovu | South Africans are losing trust in leaders - here's how we can change that 

While we agree with her, we fear she may be expecting a bit much from the current crop of municipal politicians.

Because most of these councils are run by a political party that is dysfunctional and has a rotten culture, it is hard to see how bad practices can be tackled head-on.

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Rather, the best bet for improvement in performance and accountability is coercion. The extended powers granted to the Auditor-General by the 2019 amendment to the Public Audit Act are beginning to bear fruit. These powers, which enable the office to enforce action if “material irregularities” are found, have seen a modest uptick in municipalities acting on Maluleke’s findings and recommendations. It is modest, but it’s a start.

This sjambok must be wielded with more vigour, and the national political leadership needs to visibly, audibly and practically support Maluleke and her team in this endeavour.


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