Debate On The Scopa Resolutions
By Dr LPHM Mtshali MPL


Kwazulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: Friday, 26 November 2010  

 

Honourable Speaker

 

 

The balance of audit outcomes for our provincial government departments and entities for the 2009/2010 financial year has been put forward by previous speakers in this debate. Of concern to us in the Official Opposition is the fact that the outcomes for departments with long histories of qualified audits - and especially Social Development and Health - continue to fall foul of the Auditor-General.

 

Even the replacement of key personnel in these departments has not resulted in an instant turnaround, proving perhaps that accountability in government is an institutional issue and not an individual one. Similarly, the challenge for the political leadership of these departments remains to demonstrate their commitment to institutional change.

 

I wish to remind this House that SCOPA has the authority to call officials to account for their use of public funds on behalf of the taxpaying public. Answering to the public means that the responsible official must answer questions posed in SCOPA truthfully; make relevant information available to the public (even if that publicity will put the official in a bad light); justify what he or she has done or not done by providing supporting facts, reasons, and explanations; and take responsibility for his or her actions. Is this really happening in our SCOPA at present? 

 

In my experience, provincial government departments and entities have sometimes defied the work of SCOPA by challenging the findings of the Auditor-General; by not taking disciplinary action as proposed or applying a standard procedure to disciplinary matters which are completely different; by failing to recover money from responsible officials or agencies; by instituting lengthy and unfocused investigations; or by demonstrating no sense of urgency even when dealing with resolutions with specific timeframes. Do we in SCOPA have ready answers to deal with these issues effectively?

 

Two issues, Madam Speaker, that have clouded the otherwise unqualified audit outcomes for most government departments and entities currently under review are findings on predetermined objectives and non-compliance with laws and regulations, especially the PFMA and Treasury Regulations. 

 

Whereas the former matter has the capacity to derail the plans for the upcoming wholesale audit of performance in government departments and entities, the latter runs deep in the culture of many state institutions with their disregard for the laws and regulations to which they are subject by their very nature. We are aware that there is currently no shortage of training schemes and workshops for the relevant officials designed to enforce the laws and regulations within our government departments and entities. 

 

We, however, propose to make it mandatory for all newly appointed accounting officers and Chief Financial Officers of departments and entities to undergo comprehensive training by the Department of Public Service and Administration, in conjunction with Treasury, within a month of their first appointment in any such position, on the relevant prescripts contained in the PFMA, Treasury Regulations, Public Service Regulations and any other applicable prescripts. 

 

Moreover, we propose that participation in such training should form the basis for a performance agreement between the employer and the newly appointed official with any possible transgression against the applicable prescripts being judged as a breach of that performance agreement. There clearly is no other way to enforce compliance with laws and regulations.

 

One last issue I wish to raise, Madam Speaker, has to do with the infamous Legislature catering tender whose irregular nature was established by the Auditor-General in his 2008/2009 report. This issue was adequately captured in the SCOPA resolution 43/2009 and I bring it up today because this resolution, now a year old, has not only gone unimplemented, but tender in question have been repeatedly misrepresented by the Legislature officials and the political leadership of this House.    

 

Madam Speaker, our latest findings go beyond the Auditor-General’s ruling that this tender constituted irregular expenditure due to non-compliance with the 21-day period for review of bidding proposals and failure to appear in the Government Gazette, as required by the Treasury regulations. We maintain that the entire tender process was skewed in the recipient’s favour before it even began, with at least one employee of the Legislature receiving kickbacks through a family member.

 

We contend that the recipient of this tender formed a joint venture with another caterer for the purposes of the tender process and submitted four parallel bids to the Legislature, multiplying her chances of landing the multi-million rand catering contract. This defeats the point of presenting competing options in a fair tender process and it was only possible because the Legislature employee in charge of the advertisement and compilation of bids was an indirect beneficiary of this tender.

 

We have repeatedly called on provincial Treasury to investigate these claims and we could not understand why this investigation could not take place for almost a year. It is hard to find any other reason than a deliberate attempt to use political leverage in order to cover up an inconvenient truth. With a sincere hope that a full disclosure of this unfortunate saga will soon be made public, I thank you.

 

Contact: Roman Liptak, 078 302 0929