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Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

One of the least referenced clauses of the SA constitution as far as it concerns the auditor-general is the second sentence of section 188(3), which reads: “All reports [of the auditor-general] must be made public.”

There is cause for concern about the possible politicisation of the work of the auditor-general, wittingly or not, or at least the work of the office of the auditor-general. This is not an easy point to arrive at, but it is something we must address, however difficult or sensitive it is.

In the recent past there has been much fanfare about the auditing procedure of the City of Ekurhuleni’s financials — not the audit outcomes — particularly inside the municipal council, but also by the media houses. While we welcome the public interest in the affairs of the city and EFF governance in general, it is of great concern that the unfortunate public spat that has embroiled the auditor-general, council members and the residents of Ekurhuleni is now threatening to undermine the good work that has been done to stabilise the city’s finances — something that could have been avoided.

The claims that Ekurhuleni failed to submit financial reports for the 2022/23 financial year to the auditor-general, and that we are hiding something because of some imagined corruption, is irrational, misguided in some parts and outright opportunistic in others. That, unfortunately, includes parties in council with whom we are collectively responsible for managing the affairs of the city on behalf of residents. For those who simply misunderstood the audit process, there is an explanation we can offer, but as for the rest we will focus on the work of rebuilding and stabilising the city’s finances despite them.

The auditor-general is established in terms of chapter 9 of the constitution as an independent institution, subject only to the constitution and the law. It must be impartial and exercise its powers and perform its functions without fear, favour or prejudice. This is not something the drafters of the constitution simply inserted for decoration; it is a fundamental that ought to guide both the auditor-general and all of those entrusted with public office. As much as the office of the auditor-general deserves respect, it also has a responsibility to ensure that its conduct is above reproach, to ensure that the office or its work does not become politicised.

At the end of August, Ekurhuleni submitted its financial statements to the auditor-general as required by the Municipal Finance Management Act; and for the group, which includes government entities, this was repeated in September 2023. In the fracas, this point is reduced to nothing, as though the city did not submit on time, when it did. In terms of section 126(3)(b) of the act, the auditor-general is obligated to submit an audit report on these statements to the accounting officer of the municipality within three months of receipt of the statement. Yet it has now been four months — well over the legislatively stipulated time frame — and there is no acceptable explanation for the delay.

To suggest that the city is responsible for the delay because we raised disputes is exactly what will cast a shadow of doubt on the process and outcome. The auditor-general audit dispute resolution policy adopted on November 1 2022 is there to facilitate the resolution of audit disputes, material irregularity disputes and all other disputes related to related allegations, in line with the Public Audit Act. We are well within our rights to raise disputes, as long as it is done within the policy, and that is all we did. 

As if this is not enough, the dispute process absolved the city because the 14 issues that we objected to and raised in line with the dispute process were resolved in our favour. We followed this process because some of the so-called audit findings were simply incorrect. Procedure had not been followed, or political leaders did not pay attention to object timeously.

This is not the point of the uproar or why there is apparently such dissatisfaction. Instead, there are endless and unsubstantiated allegations, including communications and press releases that are not helpful to the situation. It is for this reason that we believe the posture of the auditor-general, whether deliberate or not, is being politicised.

There seems to be a general struggle with accepting that the city’s finances under EFF leadership are in order, with sound financial oversight and intact systems to ensure taxpayer money is used for efficient service delivery. By failing to submit its report the auditor-general has prevented us and the city from accounting to the people of Ekurhuleni, so they can engage the report and hold departments under our political oversight to account.

Any number of municipal councils and administrators have failed to submit financial statements to the auditor-general in the past, but we do not see them being paraded on television and in newspapers. The City of Tshwane failed to submit its annual financial statements for three months, and there was no uproar. Despite lacking capacity and relying on consultants to prepare their financial statements — thereby spending the highest amount in the country on these services — there has been no public outcry.

We are confident that, guided by the EFF founding manifesto, we are serving the residents of Ekurhuleni well, guided by a non-negotiable cardinal pillar that which demands of us “open, accountable, corruption-free government and society” without fear of victimisation by state agencies. We have no intention of hiding anything from the residents of Ekurhuleni. Those simpletons and delinquent political parties who left the metro in a mess are making the most noise, but are not telling people that much of the current audit covers the period when they presided. 

We have made numerous pleas to the auditor-general to avoid the politicisation of such an important public service. For the sake of the residents of Ekurhuleni, since we have assumed governance responsibility, the EFF has made great strides in rebuilding the city’s finances. We have reduced outstanding debt and paid more service providers and creditors than in any other recent period. The sooner we receive the auditor-general's report, the sooner it can be released to the public as per the constitution, and the sooner we can continue with the task of clean governance.

• Dunga is EFF Gauteng chair and Ekurhuleni finance MMC.

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