AG praises public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's financial health and management

08 October 2019 - 19:43
By Andisiwe Makinana
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.

The public protector's office has received a rave review from the auditor-general about the office's financial health and financial management.

The entity maintained an unqualified audit opinion with findings, an outcome it has received for at least the past four years.

Fikile Mashao, a senior manager in the auditor-general's office responsible for the public protector, told MPs that despite the chapter nine institution not being "clean yet", it had improved its books and was moving in a positive direction.

Mashao presented the public protector audit report to the justice and constitutional development committee on Tuesday. She spoke glowingly about improvements in the quality of performance of reporting, internal controls, record keeping and general compliance on financial and performance management.

Among its impressive achievements was that the office did not incur any irregular expenditure in the year under review.

Mashao explained that irregular expenditure of R7.6m recorded under the 2018/2019 financial year was expenditure from previous financial years, which related to procurement of legal services and office space of R500,000 without following a competitive bidding process. These were ongoing multi-year contracts.

Irregular expenditure is defined as spending incurred in contravention of key legislation, where goods or services have been delivered but prescribed processes were not followed.

MPs also heard that fruitless expenditure – spending incurred in vain which could have been avoided - went down from R1.4m in the previous financial year to about R2,400 in 2018/2019, and this is interest related to contractor invoices not being within the prescribed 30 days.

"There have been major strides to pay invoices within 30 days," said Mashao. "There were some financial issues with the entity but there is monitoring from the CFO's office to make sure that invoices are paid within 30 days from the receipt of the invoice."

The office also introduced cost-containment measures and reduced its expenditure on travelling, among other things.

The non-payment of invoices within the prescribed period and material misstatements in the financial statements submitted for audit were the two sticking points standing between the office and a clean audit, she suggested.

Mashao noted that the material adjustment issues had been reduced from about five paragraphs in the previous financial year to just one in the year under review (2018/2019) and that the number of invoices not paid within 30 days had also drastically decreased.

Mashao attributed some of the improvements to the filling of key positions and proper record keeping. She said in terms of performance information, the office used to have a paragraph on non-compliance where audited records had incomplete information.

"However in the current year, that paragraph is not there. There has been major strides that have been done in that respect," she said.

It has not been an easy year for the public protector's office, with its head Busisiwe Mkhwebane losing prominent court cases and being held liable for personal cost orders. Parliament is also planning to consider a DA call to remove her from office.