Debate on SCOPA Resolutions (Unauthorised Expenditure)

 

By Roman Liptak MPL
 

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature
Pietermaritzburg : 23 March 2010

 

Madam Speaker

 

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 long term.

 

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 thin air?

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.

 

Contact:
Roman Liptak
078 302 0929