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Corruption Watch warns against bogging down AG

Mar 06 2018 19:36
Khulekani Magubane

Cape Town -  Corruption Watch has warned Parliament’s Standing Committee on the Auditor General that giving the office of the AG the function of pursuing accounting offices to recover misspent funds would overwhelm the institution with ligation preventing it from focusing on its core function. 

The committee met on Tuesday morning in Cape Town for the first of its public hearings into its amendments to the Public Audit Act.  

Despite the Auditor General’s constant findings of fruitless and wasteful as well as unauthorised and irregular expenditure (R45.6bn across all departments and entities last year), not a single person has been arrested or charged over violations to the Public Finance Management Act.

The committee wants to ensure that the AG can impose consequences on department and state owned enterprise accounting officers found to have instigated or failed in protecting tax payers’ money from irregular, unauthorised as well as fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

The committee is also scheduled to hear from other organisations including Accountability Now, the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Head of Corruption Watch’s legal and investigation unit, Leanne Govindsamy, told the committee that the NGO was not opposed to giving the AG more teeth to ensure consequences for financial mismanagement. However, the AG must not be distracted from compiling the audits which unearth this unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, she said.

“Referral of cases of undesirable audit outcomes challenges does not arise as the Hawks already exist to investigate who may be at the centre of the loss that may be evidenced in an undesirable audit outcome,” said Govindsamy. 

Govindsamy said Corruption Watch was not sure of how a referral to the anti-corruption task team would be  particularly effective. There have to be processes in place that speak to how a referral would work and what laws are affected by it. 

Govindsamy told the standing committee that expanding the AG’s function might be a solution to non-compliance to public finance and procurement guidelines, but that government needed to investigate why existing law  enforcement agencies continued to undermine these.

“The non-functioning of the criminal justice system then become a serious concern. It’s pervasive. The suggesting that AG must have teeth because other organisations are not function is a concession that they are not functioning and therefore nothing can be done,” Govindsamy said.

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