By Julian A Jacobs, PhD Candidate, School of Journalism
Rhodes University’s Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) hosted an interactive panel discussion as part of the Critical Consciousness Programme at the 45th National Arts Festival 2019 at the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature on 27 June, 2019.
Panelists included Ms Tsakani Ratsela, the Deputy Auditor-General of South Africa and still the first woman to be in this position for over a 100 years, Ms Karabo Rajuili, the Advocacy Coordinator at AmaBhugane and Ms Zukiswa Kota, PSAM’s Monitoring and Advocacy Programme Head.
The meeting took place a day after the Auditor-General of South Africa, Mr Kimi Makwetu, released the local government audit outcomes for 2017/18 financial year report at Parliament. The most prominent feature was the lack of accountability and rife irregular expenditure amongst municipalities which amounted to R25 billion. Out of the 257 municipalities audited only 18 municipalities had clean audits. The report further stated that not a single municipality in Limpopo, the North West and Free State received clean audits.
Ratsela reflected on the report to several concerned residents and organisations of Makhanda gathered at the event. She indicated that there was still a long road ahead to ensure municipalities got to the point of clean audits. She urged officials to be ethical, compliant and vigilant to exercise their duties with integrity and honesty. She called for a professionalised civil service who adhered to the policies as set out by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and other financial regulations.
Kota in her presentation and response to the Deputy Auditor-General’s comments argued for opening up the procurement data of municipalities for greater scrutiny from communities. She indicated that the procurement processes at municipalities is where the greatest irregularities occur. “Procurement is probably the murkiest and politically charged area at municipalities,” Kota said. She urged those present to access the Vuleka Mali portal to scrutinise public budgets.
AmaBhugane’s Rajuili raised concerns around the independence of the Auditor General’s office and urged government to protect the integrity of this office as well as open up the selection and interviewing processes around this post in the coming years. She also spoke about cases that often go undetected and mentioned a company who had government contracts, but also offered consultancy services to government department and entities as gaining sales commissions or kick-backs which were unaccounted for. She indicated that AmaBhugane would continue with their investigative approach to unearth those hidden corruption exchanges within government departments and municipalities. She also called for ecosystems of accountability, which included other spheres of government.
Ratsela urged all present and their communities to shine the spotlight on irregularities. She felt confident that with the recent amendments to the Public Audit Act (PAA), the Auditor General’s office has more power to act against officials and employees who waste taxpayers’ money.
PSAM celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.