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Parly slams SA weather service over R68m budget shortfall as suspended CEO remains on full pay

Oct 11 2019 09:26
Marelise van der Merwe

Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has slammed the South African Weather Service for receiving a qualified audit opinion for the 2018/2019 year.

It has vowed turn its focus on the SAWS for the next five years so that SA can "benefit from the successful running of the service".

In a strongly worded statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the committee listed its concerns over the weather service's irregular expenditure, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and the unresolved matter of its CEO – who remains on full pay a year after being suspended.

The weather service had a R68m budget deficit "as a result of overspending", according to the committee.

In the SAWS 2018/19 audit report, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu said effective and appropriate steps were not taken to prevent irregular expenditure amounting to over R37m.

Together with the balance from the previous year, the total irregular spend came to over R42m. 

Fruitless and wasteful expenditure, meanwhile, amounted to R953 196. 

According to the statement, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy had "registered [her] disappointment" and undertaken to ensure "the situation will not be the same in the next financial year's audit outcome".

But while the committee criticised what it called a "lack of proper planning" and "mismanagement" of the budget, it also acknowledged the weather service's financial resources were limited. 

"The committee wants the [weather] service to improve its planning in order to prevent over-expenditure," it added.

The department of environment, forestry and fisheries itself, which oversees the weather service, also received a qualified audit opinion, having incurred irregular expenditure to the tune of R336m, the portfolio committee said.

The committee further said the case of suspended SAWS chief Jerry Lengoasa had not yet been resolved. Lengoasa was suspended in September 2018 on full pay. 

"The committee would like to see this matter resolved speedily as it is costing taxpayers because the official is suspended on full pay. The previous CEO that was suspended, cost taxpayers R2m." Former CEO Linda Makuleni was axed in 2016.

According to the SAWS Annual Report, its employee compensation increased by 17.46% year-on-year to R261.34m, making up 57.63% of total expenditure.

Administrative Expenditure increased by R7.12m year-on-year from R9.32m to R16.43m, mainly as a result of increased provision for doubtful debts, which amounted to R5.21m for the year.

But the weather service also noted achievements despite facing challenges. 

According to its annual report, it issued 1 171 severe-weather warnings during the year and exceeded its targets in terms of accuracy and probability of detection. 

It has also previously cited inadequate equipment as a factor where it has delivered inaccurate storm warnings, News24 reported.

Makwetu said the qualified audit was on the basis that the SAWS did not correctly account for estimates to property, plant and equipment, and did not take into account all financial commitments, among other things.

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