After years of persistent calls for accountability in matters relating to corruption in local municipalities, the auditor general's office is using its interventions on Covid-19-related misappropriation of funds as an opportunity to prove its efficiency.

GIBS Professor Nick Binedell quizzed auditor general, Tsakani Maluleke, during a recent GIBS Flash Forum about her mandate, as well as the leadership crisis in local government.

Since kicking off her seven-year term in December 2020, Maluleke’s priorities have included ringing the bell for key stakeholders and awakening them to the deteriorating state that local government is in and upholding the democratic right of communities to effect the change they desire when they take to the polls in the upcoming local elections. Her office’s most immediate tasks include keeping one eye on the state of municipalities while pushing back against corruption, such as the misappropriation of Covid-19 relief funds. There is a concerning practice characterised by the looting of funds meant to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the socially vulnerable and least secured. As a result, an urgency has escalated to appoint and elect public representatives with a knack for corporate governance into local government to oversee processes set out to serve communities.

State of local government/municipalities

According to Maluleke, municipalities require administrative and political stability to successfully fulfil their obligations to communities. She also pointed out a worrying (and old) pattern where conflicting interests have continued to enter the value chain of service delivery. “Our call for ethical leadership to drive change is based on the worrying trends we have observed that suggest a lack of the progressive and sustainable improvements required to prevent accountability failures,” said Maluleke. “The Municipal Finance Management Act lays out the responsibilities of public servants, which are promoting the efficient, economic and effective use of resources. It also specifies the need for high standards of professional ethics, accountability and transparency,” she added.

She further asserted that the tendency by elected representatives (and their subordinates) to overlook the procurement of goods and services from businesses owned by friends and family at inflated prices further erodes the public’s trust in local government. Mainstream media is filled with reports of dysfunctional, non-performing and high-spending municipalities that still fail to deliver basic services for citizens despite funds being allocated to address socio-economic challenges facing their communities.

Challenges

According to the 2019/20 audit report under the theme of ethical and accountable leadership and tabled by the auditor general’s office, the challenges facing municipalities are ongoing and require urgent intervention. During the conversation, Binedell pointed out that the most heart-wrenching truth is that recommendations made by previous reports from Maluleke’s office have been largely ignored. Allowing the transgressions of the past to persist leads to the continued deployment of incapacitated public representatives. Local municipalities have not taken the necessary steps towards cleansing themselves of malpractice.

“There have been many interventions by the national and provincial government and other key players who put money, time and resources towards helping local government to acquire financial and technical skills needed to run stable organisations,” says the auditor general. “If municipal leaders, supported by their provincial leadership, commit to transforming local government into the capable, efficient, ethical and development-oriented institutions envisaged by the constitution, change will be realised.”

Most municipalities have a high rate of tolerating wrongdoing, making it difficult for the local government to self-cleanse. This highlights the importance of the interventions staged by Chapter 9 institutions.

National democratic project under threat

Binedell lauded the auditor general’s role in pointing out the importance of taxpayers seeing action taken against corrupt practices in local municipalities. He frankly affirmed that the public is losing confidence in government due to the consistently deteriorating quality of services. He raised concerns around the ineffectiveness of efforts to improve the managerial, technical and administrative capacity of local government. “There is a scarcity of qualified water engineers who should be in charge of water management in communities. There are also not enough technical skills to ensure proper distribution of electricity,” he said.

In his testimony at the State Capture Commission, President Ramaphosa explained how outsourcing (a practice that is internationally accepted as a measure that can be integrated to improve government’s capacity) was used to collapse government departments and municipalities to loot state funds. “The tendency to outsource key functions of local municipalities and the lack of skills in areas that drive change is directly translated by the audit outcomes,” said Maluleke. “These are neither new nor complex issues. In fact, they are some of the basic disciplines and processes that should be in place at municipalities, such as procuring at the best price, paying only for what was received, making payments on time and recovering the revenue owed to the state.”

Snail’s pace security

Maluleke has been successful in the recent auditing and flagging of Covid-19-related procurement contracts and relief funds. The Chapter 9 institution acted swiftly in recovering misappropriated funds and holding people to account. Despite this green shoot, Binedell addressed the staggering failure of the security cluster (including the NPA, SAPS, COGTA) to act on previous recommendations from the auditor general’s office that presented unquestionable evidence of corruption. Maluleke confirmed that although serious corruption-related activities have been unearthed, the prosecution rate of these cases is extremely low. “There has been an improvement in responsiveness from the security cluster across various arms of law enforcement. The capacity of the cluster has diminished over the years. Many leaders in the NPA and SAPS are working hard to rebuild and restore the integrity of their institutions,” she said. “When we executed audits for Covid-19 relief funds, we conducted real-time audits and shared our findings with a combination of law enforcement agencies and other members of the cluster. We saw results – funds were frozen, and people were in the dock.”

Informing upcoming local elections

The responsibility to stop corruption at local municipalities starts with political parties and independent public representatives. According to Binedell, service delivery, the recent unrest and the risk of isolation in our communities point to a state that failed to deliver its promises to its people. He believes that COGTA, SALGA and a selection of councils are responsible for revising the structural interventions that need to be implemented to get local municipalities to function effectively.

Maluleke admitted that there had been a shift in how those organisations planned to carry out their mandates going forward, and this could be attributed to the strong message coming out of her office. “There are numerous institutions that are looking to do things differently. Political parties, including the ANC and the DA, have heard our message and commentary around leadership,” she said. “We are seeing a change in SALGA’s approach towards their capacity-building processes. Instead of piling up resources, they are also focusing on putting up the type of leadership that has the skills, qualifications and experience to achieve what is required. The focus is on empowering municipalities to do what is required and holding them accountable if they under-perform.”

Related

Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With Me

Passiontrepreneurs

Passiontrepreneurs