The big story: Thank you , auditor-general

South Africa’s first woman Auditor-General (AG) Tsakani Maluleke, who has been at the helm since November 2020, has been doing a sterling job at one of our crucial institutions. Every year the AG releases a report which tells us how municipalities are spending their money. Usually, the news is not particularly good. South Africa has 278 municipalities and most are very poorly managed in terms of finances. 

This week she presented her 2019/2020 municipal audit report to parliament’s watchdogs, the standing committee for public accounts (Scopa). It monitors all things related to government expenditure. She also briefed the committee about municipal spending related specifically to Covid-19. The depressing news is that the pandemic didn’t stop municipalities from doing a shocking job on procurement. 

Over 80% of our municipalities incurred irregular expenditure of R26 billion, while only 27 received clean audits for the 2019/2020 financial year. 😕

This means that more money was unreasonably spent or was not processed in keeping with the relevant legislation. 

Many of South Africa’s municipalities are in a bad state – frequent service delivery protests make this evident, and financial mismanagement and corruption are often to blame. 

One example highlighted by Business Day was that municipalities pay consultants exorbitant fees – as much as R1 billion –  to compile their annual reports and financial statements. But these still have not been up to standard. Maluleke said at least 74% of municipalities made recurring use of consultants and the reports submitted were not adequately reviewed; there was also a lack of documentation, coupled with poor project management – all of which, she said, is wasteful expenditure. 

She also highlighted how some municipalities, specifically two in Kwa-Zulu Natal, were paying for services that had not been rendered. She said money was paid to these so-called “ghost employees”, adding that more needs to be done to control the municipalities’ internal payroll. 

Had it not been for the AG and her team’s hard work, this information would be lost and those responsible would never be held to account. So, even if the numbers depress you, just know they’re being revealed for the greater good of our democracy. With local government elections coming up this year, there’s an opportunity for citizens to hold accountable those messing up their municipalities. And, judging by the African National Congress’s (ANC) performance in the last local government elections, South Africans are certainly not afraid to punish poor governance at the polls: the party suffered its worst defeat since the end of apartheid and lost its majority in key metros across the country.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 24 June 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates