Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Political leaders should steer municipalities to success, auditor-general Kimi Makwetu said after the latest audit outcomes showed that accountability in local government is deteriorating. 

Makwetu said on Wednesday there is a lack of consequences for transgressions and irregularities, which include a failure to investigate and take action on findings made by his office.

Auditing teams are working in an increasingly hostile environment, he said.  

Local government is at the heart of service delivery, with municipalities having to provide basic services such as water, electricity, infrastructure and refuse removal. 

Makwetu emphasised the lack of accountability in municipalities at the release of the 2017/2018 local government audit outcomes in which only 18 municipalities — down from 33 the previous year — were able to obtain clean audits. 

The findings show increasing indicators of a collapse in local government finances, with the financial status of 76% of municipalities deemed as concerning and requiring intervention. 

‘Clean administration’

The indicators include revenue management, financial sustainability and payments to creditors that leave municipalities in a vulnerable financial position. 

Makwetu emphasised the role of politicians in turning around the dismal state of municipalities and said the current government relapses could “only be turned around if the political leadership was to take the lead in a wholesale clean administration in the public sector”. 

“The leadership sets the tone at the top of any organisation. If an organisation’s leaders are unethical, have a disregard for governance, compliance and control, and are not committed to transparency and accountability, it will filter through to the lower levels of the organisation,” Makwetu said. 

“Inevitably, a culture of poor discipline, impunity and non-delivery will develop, leading to the collapse of the organisation,” he said. 

He said 92% of municipalities audited had material non-compliance with key legislation, up from 85% in the previous financial year. 

While irregular expenditure remains high, it was down to R25.9bn in 2017/2018, compared with R29.7bn in 2016/2017. 

The amendment of the Public Audit Act, giving teeth to the auditor-general’s office, only took effect in April. In the 2018/2019 audit, the auditor-general will be allowed to take action once a material irregularity has been identified. Municipal officials will soon be held responsible and liable for such transgressions.

During his reply in the debate on his state of the nation address on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the deterioration in accountability is “concerning”.  

“In local government, as in all parts of the state, where systems fail, there must be accountability,” Ramaphosa said. 

He said interventions such as the National Clean Audit Task Team under the Hawks shows that the government is “serious about cleaning up our municipalities so they can fulfil their primary mandate — not to adjudicate tenders, but to deliver services to our people”.