THE latest report by auditor-general Terence Nombembe, showing that only 17 out of 278 district and local municipalities received clean audits for the past financial year, paints a distressing picture of the state of accountability and governance in municipalities in South Africa.
The AG's report shows that the number of municipalities with unqualified audits for the 2011-12 financial year remained stagnant at 25% and none of the metros received clean audits. More disappointing is the finding that local government audit results have on the whole regressed.
The big metros accounting for R170-billion of the municipal budget – namely Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, Tshwane, eThekweni, Cape Town, and Nelson Mandela Bay – received qualified audits. AgangSA finds this to be both unseemly and unacceptable, given the fact that South Africa produces highly skilled accountants who are among the most sought after in the world.
The auditor-general says part of the reason for the appalling state of municipal accounts is a lack of skilled personnel in strategic positions, with 71% of those audited relying on consultants. This adds significantly to the cost of services to the poor.
The persistent use of consultants, after almost 20 years of continuous ANC governments, demonstrates its lack of commitment to skills development.
Worst still, the AG says the municipalities were not making use of the available skills development opportunities. The fact that this problem persists, year after year, points to a total lack of political will by the councillors who have the duty to ensure that public money is used wisely.
Scant regard for governance processes leaves the door wide open to corruption.
According to deputy auditor-general Kimi Makwetu, irregular expenditure, especially in supply chain management, is also a huge problem facing municipalities.
The loss to municipalities as a result of this was a whopping R10-billion.
According to the AG: "The metropolitan municipalities faltered in their crucial role of providing leadership to smaller municipalities."
This begs the question why no heads are rolling. The answer is simple: the culture of impunity and unaccountability has become so endemic in our country that it has become part of how government conducts business.
AgangSA believes a vital part of the solution lies in the development of a professional civil service, wherein people are appointed on merit – transformation imperatives notwithstanding – and are left to do their work as professionals, secure in the knowledge that they will not be replaced on whim, whenever there's a change in political leadership.
This, together with investment and commitment to skills development, will result in significant improvement on the overall capabilities of the civil service.
Thabo Leshilo, AgangSA media officer