'Flouting of procurement laws to blame'

CRITICAL: Deputy auditor-general Kimi Makwetu
CRITICAL: Deputy auditor-general Kimi Makwetu

"In terms of non-compliance, 92% of national departments are in the red"

IRREGULAR spending in national and provincial departments and state entities increased from R13-billion to R21-billion between April 2010 and March 2011.

The auditor-general dropped this bombshell yesterday during a briefing to Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on the audit outcomes of all state departments.

Deputy auditor-general Kimi Makwetu told the public finance watchdog that 39 departments and entities had incurred irregular expenditure of R21-billion for the year under review.

Irregular expenditure occurs when government departments or any other public entity spends money without adhering to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) such as following open tender processes in the procurement of goods and services above the threshold of R500,000.

Makwetu said the flouting of government procurement practices was largely responsible for the increase in irregular expenditure.

"This is what we are picking up here, situations where sourcing of goods (and services) has happened but there was no compliance with those (PFMA) prescripts," Makwetu said.

Makwetu said the public sector was still not near the goal of achieving universal clean audits.

"We are still further away from getting the ideal outcomes in the national sphere of government.

"In terms of non-compliance, 92% of national departments are in the red, meaning that they have not complied with whatever applicable laws and regulations they needed to comply with," Makwetu said.

Scopa chairman Themba Godi said even though the auditor-general was "virtually baby sitting government departments, it was disappointing that they continued to produce poor audit results".

Provincial government departments accounted for the big chunk of government's irregular expenditure at R17-billion, the national departments spent R2.2-billion without following the relevant laws while other public entities, including provincial legislatures, were responsible for the balance.

The bulk of government spending takes place mainly at a provincial level as it is provincial departments that are responsible for delivering infrastructure such as schools, roads, houses and health care facilities.

Of concern, Makwetu told MPs, was that more than half of the irregular expenditure (R13.3-billion) had been under-reported by government departments and was only picked up by his office during audits.

"We have isolated three areas of key internal control that need to be in place, one of which is the role of leadership in setting the tone in each of these departments, the ability to get financial and performance management properly done as well as the role of audit committees and internal audit (units) in providing oversight."

A total of 44 national and provincial government departments, out of a total of 121 that were audited, got poor audit outcomes such as qualified opinions.

One national department and three provincial departments received disclaimers - the worst opinion an entity can receive.

These are the Department of Public Works, the North West department of public works and the health departments of the Northern Cape and Limpopo.

This means that there has been no significant improvement from last year's audit outcomes, in which 43 government departments performed poorly.