May 18, 2021

Mounting attacks on state auditors ‘possible crime against the state’

The Auditor-General of South Africa warned Parliament to expect an upsurge in violent crimes against members of the AG team as they traverse the country finalising local government audits.

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu told a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Auditor General that the last spike in crimes against AG staff coincided with the release of municipal audit reports, which prompted him to call on Parliament to take the matter seriously and draw up a security plan involving the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Department of Co-operative and Traditional Governance.

He also advised local governments to get their houses in order before the audit as a “proactive move” to avoid the threats around detection of financial mismanagement, which had led to the attacks on AG staff seen earlier in 2018. “That would help a great deal. Now is the time to act,” said Makwetu.

The Auditor General is a chapter nine institution which performs a constitutional duty.

Reported during the countrywide audit of municipalities were hijackings, death threats, hostage-taking, threatening phone calls, attacks on auditors’ cars including slashed tyres, windows smashed at audit sites and an incident where intruders shot an AG staff member while she was asleep in a guesthouse in Emfuleni, and escaped with her equipment.

The mounting attacks on state auditors, first seen in the Free State in 2016, but now evident in other provinces, were described by a number of committee members as well as by the AG himself as possibly a “crime against the state”, given that the AG is a chapter nine institution which performs a constitutional duty.

The Minister of Co-operative and Traditional Governance was not present at the Committee meeting when the security threats were discussed, but there was consensus that steps needed to be taken to allow AG staff to perform the function of auditing state expenditure at all three levels of government.

The AG warned that his large team “were not accustomed” to doing their jobs while their lives were under threat. His office employed about 700 fully qualified chartered accountants who “have choices”. They can become chief financial officers anywhere in the country where they don’t have to work accompanied by someone with a gun to protect them.

“We are trained to deal with debits and credits and the accounts of institutions, and it gets uncomfortable to be moving around with security in order to carry out their professional responsibilities.”

Makwetu warned that South Africa could lose so much staff. Moreover, it stands to lose credibility over the years. It also undergoes international scrutiny and evaluation, and its reputation is at stake “even when we are doing well”.

“This 107-year-old institution has always been seen as a central area of protection and has probably never had to face this.”

He also pointed out that the auditors of South Africa play an important role in the international community of auditors. “You have no idea how many letters we have received [about] the concerns being raised here. It is not just a risk to us as an institution, but also to how we are perceived by our colleagues in all corners of the world because we operate centrally in that environment. It is a country risk because when people assess South Africa they assess South Africa in relation to the credibility and stability of its institutions.

“We are not dealing with small things confined to some provinces. Every time, we have to explain, because they have this view there is a wild chase of South African auditors,” he said.

The SAPS, in its presentation, said that without releasing information that could compromise its protection plan, it had responded to a letter from the AG on the need for security measures by making sure that sufficient protection was in place when audits were taking place, and followed up its own crime intelligence.

The AG acknowledged that without SAPS protection, his department would not be able to do its job — in some places “we wouldn’t be able to have service delivery” — but he also said “it is not a matter that can be dispensed with solely by securing the intervention of security”.

Significantly the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Temba Godi, was present at meeting with members of his committee. He pointed out that government finances follow three steps: Revenue is collected, the Treasury then allocates it and the AG checks how the money has been used.

“When the Minister of Finance wants to tell us how the money is going to be distributed the whole country comes to a stop, but when we are told how this money was used it is almost like nobody cares. It is a travesty. We should be more interested in how the money is used than how it is distributed.”

He said how South Africa’s revenue is spent is “crucial”. When the report of the AG is released, Parliament should hold a joint sitting, he suggested. “not just an administrative meeting”.

“Instead of having the gentleman from Cogta here we should have the Minister. The Treasury should be here and the Minister of Finance so that we, as Parliament, talk to them at that political level. That would show that this matter is serious,” Godi said.

“That would send a message to society that the work of the AG is most important and how the allocated money has been used must be accorded the highest level of respect.

“It is embarrassing and shameful that we should be discussing these kinds of things. What enabling environment do we have that creates these kind of things. As the supposed leaders of society, what role are we playing? How do these things emerge?”

He reminded the Committee meeting that the AG is still awaiting some of the audit outcomes, which have been delayed by contestations. As DA Member of the Standing Committee on the Auditor General Alan McLoughlin pointed out in a separate statement, the AG was still unable to confirm the extent of irregular expenditure because of outstanding audits and incomplete information, although he expected it was likely to be in excess of R51-billion.

Moira Levy

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Friday, 30 November 2018 18:01

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