Auditor-general Kimi Makwetu keeps close eye on Covid-19 crisis cash

Auditor-general has team ready to inspect how money is spent

26 April 2020 - 00:05 By S'THEMBILE CELE and THABO MOKONE
Auditor-general Kimi Makwetu has offered to send a team of experts to help government departments and municipalities prevent theft from the overall R500bn emergency Covid budget.
Auditor-general Kimi Makwetu has offered to send a team of experts to help government departments and municipalities prevent theft from the overall R500bn emergency Covid budget.
Image: MOELETSI MABE

Some municipalities want part of the R20bn Covid-19 relief fund to help them deliver basic services.

Midvaal mayor Bongani Baloyi said municipalities had lost millions in revenue in the economic shutdown. He feared they might not be able to provide services if the national lockdown continues.

Meanwhile, the auditor-general, Kimi Makwetu, has offered to send a team of experts to help government departments and municipalities prevent theft from the overall R500bn emergency Covid budget.

The R20bn will be allocated to municipalities to help them deliver water tanks, personal protective equipment, sanitisers for public transport and other elements to help contain the spread of the virus.

But Baloyi said that if some of the money was not provided to municipalities for their operations, "very few municipalities will be standing by the time we get to December".

"We need to factor in those who will lose the most and who don't have a rates base [and] who will not be able to sustain themselves," said Baloyi, who is also an executive member of the South African Local Government Association.

"Those records are within the department of co-operative governance, so it must not be used only for capex [capital expenditure], water capex or Covid-related activities.

"It must also be used for relief for loss of revenue and, secondly, to drive economic growth through infrastructure development in local municipalities."

Baloyi said most municipalities did not purify their own water or generate electricity. They bought these services and sold them on.

"For electricity it is complicated because the structure of the tariffs is that the industry subsidises the household.

"So now the industries have been shut down for the last month, so the bulk users of electricity have not consumed that electricity and you can't charge them for it."

Cape Town deputy mayor Ian Neilson said although the municipality did not know how much it would receive, it would "wish to use such funds to support continued supply of its basic services".

Makwetu has cautioned that the government's multibillion-rand emergency spending for tackling the pandemic is going to be spent through a system already plagued by "internal weakness, especially in the area of procurement".

He said special measures needed to be introduced to prevent public money from ending up in the wrong pockets.

With strict and transparent government procurement rules having been suspended because of the disaster, there have been concerns that some of the money could be stolen by corrupt government officials.

Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) has also raised concern about the state of government financial controls during the Covid-19 emergency spending.

Makwetu said he had a team of experts on standby to ensure that no public money was stolen.

His team was ready to deploy as part of the essential services to scrutinise "payment patterns and cycles" during the crisis spending.

The abnormal situation requires extraordinary interventions from all the relevant structures of the state.
Scopa chairperson, Mkhuleko Hlengwa

"Deployment of such a multidisciplinary team is possible within days, either as an essential service or as soon as lockdown restrictions are eased, focusing on the most pressing risk-management challenges, as deemed by the national command council and government," he said.

"To facilitate very current feedback to government, it would be ideal to handle such an assignment in phases, linked to the payment patterns and cycles during this time of crisis."

Mkhuleko Hlengwa, the IFP MP who chairs Scopa, welcomed Makwetu's proposal for real-time auditing.

"The abnormal situation requires extraordinary interventions from all the relevant structures of the state," said Hlengwa.

He said Scopa would today hold a planning session on "Covid-19 related oversight" ahead of meetings with government departments in the coming weeks.

He said the committee would be questioning those government departments that have recently been identified for controversial Covid spending.

These include the department of public works, which paid R37m for a 40km razor-wire fence along the Zimbabwe border at Beitbridge, and the Gauteng e-government department for allegedly using the corona-virus to issue a R30m IT tender in suspicious circumstances.

Hlengwa said the committee would also seek explanations from the South African Social Security Agency for the amounts spent on "undignified food parcels which exploit the poverty of our people".


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