'Please call me' case: Public Protector rules against audit watchdog

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‘Please Call Me’ inventor Nkosana Makate.
‘Please Call Me’ inventor Nkosana Makate.
Sunday Times

The Public Protector has found that there was an "undue delay" in the investigation conducted by the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) as part of the "Please call me" case against Vodacom.

Nkosana Makate lodged a complaint with the Public Protector against IRBA.

For more than a decade, Makate has been in a fight with Vodacom to get compensation for creating its "Please Call Me" feature.

In 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that Vodacom had to enter into negotiations with Makate to find fair compensation.

Vodacom offered R47 million, but Makate wants more than R10 billion. The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria still needs to rule about what the amount should be.

In 2018, Makate requested IRBA to investigate various accounting problems at Vodacom. IRBA is a body that oversees the accountancy profession.

Unhappy with IRBA’s progress, Makate turned to the Public Protector with a complaint about the delays by the IRBA.

"We found that, indeed, there was an undue delay on the part of the IRBA to finalise their investigation into Mr Makate’s complaint," the Public Protector’s office found.

It found that IRBA failed to allocate the case file to the investigator within a reasonable time – it only happened after more than 22 months.

"That was close to two years after receipt of the complaint. Such a long delay is considered to be unreasonable, and constitutes maladministration. The IRBA lacks adequate internal processes and service standards in which investigation timelines are prescribed and it further failed to implement proper processes to ensure speedy resolution of complaints," the Public Protector found.

"It is, however, acknowledged that the investigation — from the time the matter was allocated to a Senior Investigator for investigation — was conducted and finalised within a reasonable period." The investigation was concluded in January 2021.

The Public Protector ruled that IRBA must develop a new procedure manual and service standards to conduct investigations within 90 days.

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