: 23 March 2010
SCOPA has considered instances of
unauthorised expenditure leading up to the 2008/2009 financial year
critically - perhaps more critically than in the past - and this
time the committee has chosen to charge unauthorised expenditure
against the future departmental budgets, except in special
circumstances where departments are facing a particular crisis and
where service delivery is close to being compromised.
It is unfortunate that it has taken a
mounting fiscal crisis to address what is an ongoing and persistent
culture of non-compliance with rules. We pay lip service to the
provisions of the PFMA in theory, but we forget all about them in
practice whenever they are violated. This, all of us who serve on
SCOPA are in agreement, has to change.
The government has gone some way towards
curbing unnecessary expenditure under the auspices of the Provincial
Recovery Plan. For this it deserves praise. But it needs to do more
if it is to meet its own targets in the short term and if it is to
successfully counter the culture of excess and extravagance in the
The Hon. MEC for Finance has set clear
targets that cabinet and government departments have to meet when it
comes to reducing their expenditure. Many of these are plain common
sense and one wonders why we needed a global economic recession to
embark on a concerted effort not to waste public funds.
However, what the MEC did not do was to
indicate what action would be taken against fellow ministers and
government officials if these targets are not met. Collective
responsibility is clearly not enough to bring down the budget
deficit; we now need to engage individuals. Failure to abide by the
rules, after all, points to an absence of leadership in
decision-making. It also puts a question mark over one’s fitness for
an executive position.
A similar sense of impunity extends to
ongoing forensic investigations in numerous government departments.
The Hon. MEC for Finance has voiced her frustrations with the pace
of progress in a number of outstanding cases. We all know what
operational weaknesses there are in the SAPS.
At the same time, we hear from the other
side that identical frustrations are being voiced by investigative
bodies such as the SIU that government is failing to deal decisively
with cases of corruption identified by independent investigators.
Now we have a situation where investigators are pointing fingers at
government and vice versa.
The truth is that there are cases of a very
serious nature where disciplinary action simply does not take place.
Even where disciplinary action is initiated, it seldom runs to a
conclusion. The bottom line is that disciplinary processes are a
weakness of this government and the balance of outstanding cases
proves that the prospect of disciplinary action in the public
service is no deterrent.
After all, how many high-profile cases of
corruption, fraud and mismanagement have led to a successful
prosecution? How many offenders continue to be suspended on full pay
while their disciplinary proceedings are allowed to dissipate into
With a backlog of serious cases and
unresolved issues, we really should consider a centralised mechanism
to drive these processes. Driving disciplinary processes from one
centre would ensure speed and consistency.
We also need to find the courage to review
progressive labour legislation to do away with lengthy disciplinary
procedures and suspending corrupt civil servants on full pay. And we
need to find the political will to fire corrupt officials even if
they happen to be employees of the ruling party.
If we do not, the impact this kind of
inaction has on service delivery will only get worse. With its
reputation already tarnished, our civil service, often unfairly,
inspires little confidence that it can deliver on its mandate. In
the popular imagination, our civil service is little more than a
dumping ground for families of politicians. Similarly, public
procurement process is riddled with favouritism of every kind.
Everyday media reports show that tender rigging and conflicts of
interest are the primary sources of corruption in all provinces.
A country's reputation for strong governance
practices enhances direct investment, trade and economic growth.
Quite frankly, Madam Speaker, we are wasting our time trying to
enhance economic growth through fiscal manipulation if we do not
strive to boost investors’ confidence in our public institutions.
Another way of doing this, in addition to
cleaning up our civil service, is by way of performance assessment.
Currently, performance is not measured, except in most superficial
ways, and a notion of value for money hardly comes into the equation
where service delivery standards are concerned.
We in the Official Opposition are genuinely
excited about the government’s plans to introduce performance
assessments for senior officials and we hope they will meet the
criteria anticipated by the Auditor General whose role it will be to
audit them in the near future. Performance issues obviously begin
with the hiring of employees. Once we have overlooked or
deliberately disregarded the candidate’s fitness for the civil
service job, no amount of on the job training will deliver the
performance assessment results we now expect.
One last word about an example of irregular
expenditure that made its way into the media recently. It is a pity
that this very legislature - whose role it is to see to it that
public funds are spent efficiently, effectively and in a transparent
manner - would choose to mislead the public about the process behind
a lucrative tender for internal catering services after its details
had been revealed to SCOPA.
The legislature clearly failed to promote
public scrutiny into its own affairs. The question that needs to be
asked - and answered - here is whether the senior management of the
legislature did this out of its own initiative or whether it acted
under political pressure. I am not quite sure which is worse.
I thank you.
078 302 0929