It is time that political leadership translated into political accountability

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

Scopa today presents to this House some 60 resolutions for adoption, some specific to departments and others transversal in their application.  The resolutions represent the work of the committee in processing the audit findings of the AGSA for 2014/15.  I want to record a word of appreciation to the chairperson Hon Govender and the members of the committee, the legislature support staff and the representatives of the AG’s office for tackling this work with dedication and commitment.

With that in mind I want to say a few things about the link between good oversight and good governance.  Oversight and the work of Scopa has become an all year round activity with each cycle of reports generating a further set of follow up resolutions.

Political parties and particularly those new to power suffer from the well-meaning assumption that whatever mess they inherited from a previous administration can be sorted out quickly.

The DA learned when we took over our first major administration, the City of Cape Town in 2006, that turning around a super tanker takes time, and even once you get the ship going again in a different direction, it takes constant effort to keep the standards of governance high.

I know the majority party in this province found the same when they took over KZN, and it was only after a few years and a great deal of fiscal discipline by the provincial treasury and the MEC of the time that governance started improving.

The point is that good governance doesn’t just happen; it requires strong oversight to keep the executive accountable and this must be repeated year after year.  MECs need to recognise that strong Scopa oversight helps them, because good governance translates into future election successes.  That is why we are so happy that the Western Cape heads the national PFMA table with 83% clean audits of departments and entities as opposed to 22% in this province.  Good oversight leads to good governance and good governance makes voters happy.

Scopa hearings involve interrogating the accounting officers and senior officials in terms of their PFMA responsibilities.  It also means considering the work of executive authorities, the MECs and Boards who must ensure that senior officials comply with the PFMA and Treasury regulations.  Political deployees on a committee such as Scopa don’t like focussing too much attention on their ministers and I suspect that Luthuli House takes a very dim few of any majority party member who gets carried away with pursuing ministerial accountability, but the fact remains that this is a necessary part of our work.  In this respect the DA is not much different to the ANC.  We are both parties of government and there has to be a creative tension between our executive members and our members of oversight bodies such as Scopa.

In the AG’s 2014/15 PFMA findings for KZN 15% of executive authorities are said to provide limited assurance while a further 32% provide only some assurance and could improve.  The root causes of the negative audit findings in 88% of cases in KZN (up from 82% in 2013/14) is and I quote the AG, ‘slow responses by management including accounting officers and senior management’.  And whose job is it to ensure that accounting officers do their jobs?  Yes, the MECs.

We need to be pushing our MECs to hold their HODs and CFOs accountable, and if they don’t then there must be consequences.  Performance bonuses need to be withheld, and if necessary contracts abruptly terminated.  Better a cadre out of work than a qualified audit opinion.

For example, what happened in the Department of Arts and Culture?  This department has been qualified every year since 2012/13 on property, plant and equipment.  Yet the HOD and the CFO have both been in their positions for at least the last two years.  Hasn’t the MEC noticed that there is a problem?  Clearly something needs to change if the department is to get out of its rut.

But the biggest problems identified by the audits are covered as usual by the transversal resolutions.  Here the problem is that these are repeat findings, and our resolutions indicate how long these findings have been repeated.

We have been asking for disciplinary consequences for the perpetrators of irregular expenditure for four years.  We have been expressing concern about IT findings for five years and material misstatements for as long as I have been a member of Scopa.

It is these repeat findings that are especially frustrating and where we need MEC interventions urgently.  It cannot simply be business as usual in many departments where non-compliance has become the norm.  There must be consequences and it is up to the MECs to make these consequences carry some weight.  Education has recently showed some improvement but Health and Transport still have a long way to go to get unqualified audits and these departments spend a huge proportion of the KZN budget.

It’s time that political leadership also translated into political accountability.