Letter to the Editor – Interpreting municipal audit outcomes

By Mark Steele, MPL, DA KZN Spokesperson on Scopa:

Interpreting audit outcomes is an annual statistical minefield for journalists and political parties alike.  MECs and political parties have a vested interest in ‘shaping’ the results so as to show themselves or their party in the most favourable light.  The AGSA does his best to present a user friendly document but by its very nature a consolidated report of municipal outcomes for the whole country for a financial year (in the most recent case 2013/14) is going to be a mass of complicated statistics graphs and diagrams.

Take one simple measure.  Gauteng got 13 clean audits, KZN 20 and the Western Cape 18.  At first sight this puts KZN in the lead, but not for long.  If you look at the percentages for these numbers against the number of actual auditees in a province then it’s quite a different story.  Gauteng’s 13 is only 39% of its auditees, KZN’s 20 is even less at 28% of its auditees and the Western Cape surges ahead with its 18 clean audits being 55% of its auditees.

Then there is the question of what is an auditee.  The AG’s report puts together in a single statistical lump metropolitan municipalities, district municipalities, local municipalities and municipal entities.  It could well be argued that if you want to have any meaningful comparison then each category of municipality should be treated separately, while municipal entities are quite clearly a different kind of creature to any category of municipality.

Be that as it may, that is what the AGSA has done in this report but one cannot conflate ‘auditees’ with ‘municipalities’ as some news reports have done.  KZN has 61 municipalities (1 metro, 10 districts and 50 locals) but only 13 (21%) received clean audits.  The Western Cape has 30 municipalities (1 metro, 5 districts and 24 locals) but of these 17 (57%) received clean audits.

Both provinces have done well but only one can claim truly outstanding municipal government.

In a time when the public is starved of good news stories it is understandable that figures that look good will get big, positive headlines.  If one doesn’t take care however the good news becomes just another con story and no different to any of the other political scandals sweeping the country from the Nkandla whitewash report to the irregularities around the 2010 SA bid for the FIFA World Cup.