Reacting to a News24 article, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula says a new finding about the Road Accident Fund wasn't a blow to his office - instead, it strengthens accountability.
One of the most important tenets of our constitutional democracy is accountability to all South Africans through various governance structure and to the fourth estate. We have to, as public representatives, keep the public informed about every aspect of government work, especially about how we have utilised the public resources that we have been given responsibility for, on behalf of the citizenry of the country.
We must be cognisant of the doctrine of separation of powers in relation to the three arms of government, the executive, the judiciary and Parliament; and the roles played by each of these arms. The doctrine of the separation of powers as expected in our constitutional arrangements must be observed by all role players and must be understood by the 4th estate, so as to be able to act as a vanguard and information provider to all our people.
I have always been a staunch advocate of transparency and continuous communication, even through unconventional social media. I have equally been outspoken in that South Africans must be informed about government work, especially what is done using the taxpayer’s money.
I was therefore taken aback by the News 24 article, titled "Blow to Mbalula as Parliament says RAF must submit reports".
There has never been a point where I have either refused or instructed the RAF not to submit its annual report and financial statements.
One therefore fails to understand why any call for RAF to submit reports can ever be a "blow" to the minister. We therefore need to clarify to the nation what is really at issue here and put matters into perspective.
The facts are as follows:
The minister as the executive authority of the Road Accident Fund and is not involved in the operations of the RAF. The RAF has an accounting authority, a properly constituted board in terms of both the PFMA and the Road Accident Fund Act. The minister is therefore not responsible for submission of the annual financial statements of the RAF.
The board is in terms of Section 55 the PFMA responsible for, amongst others, preparation of "financial statements for each financial year in accordance with the generally recognised accounting practice…".
Furthermore, the board "must submit within five months of the end of the financial year to the relevant treasury, to the relevant minister responsible for the public entity…".
In line with my statutory obligations imposed by section 65(2) of the FPMA, I have tabled a written explanation to Parliament, setting out reasons why the RAF’s annual report and annual financial statements were not tabled. I have also engaged various parliamentary committees on the matter, and informed Scopa that I will be guided by their final determination in taking the matter forward.
The main reason why the annual reports and financial statements of the RAF 2020/21 financial year have not been tabled, is the existence of a dispute between the RAF and the Auditor-General of South Africa regarding various aspects of accounting policies. Section 55(2) of the PFMA requires that the annual report and financial statements tabled before Parliament must "fairly present the state of affairs of the public entity, its business, its financial results, its performance against predetermined objectives and its financial position as at the end of the financial year concerned". The nature of this dispute is such that it impacts on the fair presentation of the state of affairs and financial results of the RAF.
This dispute is a matter that is now before the courts. The board of the RAF has taken the decisions of the Auditor-General for review by the court and therefore renders the matter sub judice.
It is, however, not true, and risible at best, that I have refused to appear before Scopa citing this rule. I merely informed Scopa of the fact that the matter is sub judice and subjected myself to the guidance and determination of Scopa on how to proceed. I remain ready to appear before Scopa should Parliament make a determination to that effect.
What remains a concern, however, is that I have yet to be favoured with the said legal opinion or correspondence from Scopa on the matter, yet this is already being quoted in a media article.
The article in question also states that the RAF lost the interdict against AGSA and does not inform its readers that the RAF was granted leave to appeal that decision and Judge Colis conceded that "another court may arrive at a different conclusion".
There can never be a "blow" for the minister when he is asked to account to Parliament or our people. Accountability remains sacrosanct in our constitutional order. I am equally fully conversant with my constitutional duty to account to Parliament for the exercise of my powers and performance of my functions.
Mbalula is Minister of Transport. Views expressed are his own.