'As long as a fraudulent official is still breathing they must be held accountable'
The office of the auditor-general will soon get more powers to enable it to initiate procession for public officials to be accountable for the losses suffered by government due to their decisions.
Over years‚ auditor-general Kimi Makwetu identified lack of accountability in local government. The multi-party standing committee on the auditor-general (Scoag) on Tuesday adopted amendments to the Public Audit Act‚ the legislation that governs the operations of the auditor-general of South Africa‚ the country’s supreme audit institution.
These amendments provide the audit office with the power to refer material irregularities to appropriate authorities such as the Hawks to investigate. The AG will also enjoy remedial powers which enable his office to recover money lost as a result of the irregularities.
Chairperson of Scoag Vincent Smith told the media during the release of the 2016/17 municipal audit outcomes on Wednesday that amendments to the Public Audit Act have been adopted by the committee and will be tabled to the house for adoption.
These amendments will‚ in a situation when the AG has evidence that conduct of a public official has resulted in material financial loss‚ allow the AG to issue a certificate to recover the money from the official. This will also include instances of non-compliance with legislation‚ fraud or theft‚ breach of fiduciary duties‚ misuse or loss of material public resource‚ substantial harm to a public sector institution.
Smith told reporters in Cape Town that the amendments will allow funds to be recovered from an official even when they have left their position.
“As long as you are not dead‚ they must find you. History has taught us that as soon as a person is investigated‚ they resign. What we are saying‚ as long as you are still breathing‚ you must be held accountable‚” Smith said.
Makwetu also told journalists that the environment within which auditors worked was becoming increasingly difficult.
“One of the things we point out in the report is drawing attention to an increasingly difficult environment that auditors are finding in respect of the audits that we do. In the latest period we’ve had many staff members citing instances where they were confronted by an intimidating and hostile environment.
"[This happened] especially where there were shining the light in areas that were not looked at before. We are still finding our auditors being put under unnecessary pressure without due consideration to the fact that auditors are supposed to do this work independently‚” he said.
Makwetu said there is a process which allows for public officials to challenge the view of the auditors so long as they can provide evidence.