Debate On The Scopa Resolutions
By Roman Liptak MPL

Kwazulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: Friday, 26 November 2010  

Honourable Speaker

 

Out of 16 provincial government departments audited for the 2009/2010 financial year, only three came out with an unqualified audit with no matters. Out of the remaining 13 departments, four received a downright qualification and nine were unqualified with findings on either predetermined objectives or non-compliance with laws and regulations, or both. The audit outcomes for our public entities were strikingly similar.

 

It is clear from these findings that, among other things, a large percentage of senior managers are not complying with the prescripts of the PFMA, Treasury Regulations or Public Service Regulations applicable to their departments or entities. This is a very serious transgression and urgent steps are necessary to ensure that accounting officers and their senior staff understand their roles and responsibilities in terms of these prescripts. This balance also shows that achieving the 2014 "clean audit" target – that is clean audit without matters – is very likely beyond most of our departments and entities.

 

As things are, cases of corruption and issues such as irregular expenditure are questioned at length by SCOPA, but often without establishing who was responsible, what internal processes had been contravened, what disciplinary action had been taken against the officials responsible and what internal control measures had been effected since that period.

 

Oversight, Madam Speaker, can mean supervision, watchful care, management, or control. Which of these functions does our SCOPA perform? We repeatedly proclaim that government departments and specifically their accounting officers must be ‘called to account’. Whether this means that they will be ‘held accountable’, meaning ‘responsible’ – is unclear.

 

The question we need to ask today is what SCOPA can do to help effect improvement in the four government departments and five entities with qualified audits, most of which are recurring. What must SCOPA do to achieve more than serve as a forum for Members to seek clarification from officials on issues highlighted by the Auditor-General?

 

Madam Speaker, in order to maximise its impact, we need to empower SCOPA to be able to live up to its mandate. At present, SCOPA’s research capacity is totally inadequate and the committee does not even perform such basic tasks as site visits that would allow Members to see issues at hand for themselves. This has to change.

 

There are some powers that SCOPA already has but isn’t using them. This House has passed a comprehensive Witnesses’ Act aimed at officials, both incumbent and former, who could throw light on circumstances that led to irregularities, losses, and audit issues in their departments. SCOPA needs to start applying the provisions of this Act to summon witnesses, especially those who may have left their positions or the civil service altogether.

 

A new provision in the Standing Rules of this Legislature that could truly empower SCOPA should grant it access to any government documentation it may require to play an effective oversight role. This would end the endless wrangling over the outstanding internal audit and forensic reports, which has marked the political exchanges in this House in recent years.

 

In addition to overseeing government spending and performance, SCOPA itself needs to draw on its findings to push for broader legislative changes to deepen oversight through whistle-blowing legislation and legal frameworks that promote codes of conduct, transparency and accountability.

 

Such changes could extend to dealing with officials who resign in order to escape discipline. Based on our findings, we could champion regulations that would oblige public servants facing disciplinary action to serve their full notices to allow departments to complete disciplinary hearings.

 

Many government departments still lack the systems and skills to enforce disciplinary standards applicable to public servants. SCOPA could motivate for a functioning system to prevent an errant official finding employment in another government department. And finally, given the large numbers of civil servants who fail to disclose interest, SCOPA could assist the Public Service Commission in maintaining a register of the financial interests of senior managers, by advocating for a disciplinary framework for offenders.  

 

I thank you.     

 

Contact: Roman Liptak, 078 302 0929