Office of A-G needs more teeth to bite

Auditor General Kimi Makwetu.
Auditor General Kimi Makwetu.

The auditor-general (A-G) continues to play a critical role in ensuring politicians and civil servants account for how public funds are managed.

It is heartening that at a time when the auditing profession has come under the spotlight following lapses in ethical judgments among some of its practitioners, our supreme audit institution is still seen to be doing its work without fear or favour.

This is in line with the role the constitution sets out for it as one of the independent state institutions to strengthen our system of democracy.

It is cause for concern that the unauthorised and wasteful use of public funds continues unabated. It has grown from R25.7-billion in the 2014/2015 financial year and is expected to balloon to R65-billion once all the audits for 2016/2017 are concluded. When funds that are allocated for the delivery of services end up being spent on programmes they are not intended for, it is the poor who suffer the most.

Lest we forget, budgets acquire the status of law once they are passed by the legislature. Deviation from them, unless condoned by the legislature, amounts to a violation of the law. Yet offenders hardly face any consequences for spending public funds irregularly or vainly.

We welcome the mooted changes to the Public Audit Act of 2004 to give powers to the A-G to refer irregular expenditure to investigative agencies. We hope parliament's standing committee on the auditor-general moves with speed to give Kimi Makwetu the powers he needs to hold state departments and entities accountable for their use of public funds.

The supreme audit institution cannot make enforceable decisions. It relies on the
co-operation of the auditees to implement its recommendations. The act only empowers the A-G to rope in the National Assembly when its recommendations are ignored, but this is not enough to remedy the crisis of noncompliance we are facing.

We hope giving the A-G more teeth will lead to clean audits becoming the norm rather than the exception . We can ill-afford the wastage of our limited public resources when we are borrowing more and more to balance our R1.56-trillion national budget.

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