Defend Truth


Service delivery must take precedence over compliance


Alan Winde is Western Cape Premier.

While we must continue to do everything in our power to avoid corruption, we must not halt service delivery simply to comply with the auditor-general.

Last week, the auditor-general released his consolidated audit findings. Once again, the Western Cape has emerged with the best results, with all but one of our departments receiving an unqualified audit.

In his report, the AG notes: “Over the five years, there has been a solid and consistent pattern of good audit outcomes in the Western Cape, which can be attributed to the provincial leadership and accounting officers, and authorities instilling a culture of accountability and good governance.”

As a government that prides itself on being competent and principled, these results are a reflection of our hard work. The Western Cape scored the highest percentage of clean audits at 79%. Gauteng, in second place, scored 30%.

The Western Cape health department was also the first provincial health department to record a clean audit. In a department of that size and complexity, with a growing number of patients and a dwindling budget, this is no mean feat.

But there is little reward for those who perform well and few consequences for those who don’t.

What’s more, the auditor-general’s results do not measure the ability to deliver services.

Complying with the auditor-general’s standards is incredibly hard work that keeps our officials occupied for months. Is it a sign of a government that is achieving value for money, which is what most citizens would take the audit outcome to mean? I would argue no.

The procurement and supply chain management systems, which govern how government departments spend their money, don’t always result in the best value being achieved. It’s a well-known fact that where government money is being spent, prices are often inflated.

When I gave my state of the province address earlier in 2019, I said: “This government has over the years, earned a reputation for its commitment to clean governance and clean audits. Today, I stand by that commitment but I am going to say this clearly and explicitly: we will not slow down a single second of delivery for the sake of compliance with the auditor-general.”

I feel very strongly that our focus as a government should be on delivering services to the people we serve, legally, ethically and as cost-effectively as possible. But the onerous audit process and ever-shifting goalposts are standing in the way.

Here’s an example: The only department that didn’t get an unqualified audit was the Department of Agriculture. This is a historical issue and hinges on a technicality. The matter is currently before the court, but the crux of it is this: The Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas is a government entity which has for a number of years now, been involved in farmer settlement and disaster relief work. Payments have historically been made to them as transfers, but the auditor-general disagrees and wants them to now be classified as payments for goods and services. This has resulted in qualified audits.

This is a department that has a squeaky clean record and has even won awards for being a top-audited department. We will let the courts decide this one, but let me say that despite having received a qualified audit opinion for the past three years now, the agriculture department has continued to assist farmers through the worst drought on record, and has still recorded a 72% success rate for the land reform farmers it supports.

I acknowledge the need for rules because as a government, we need to do everything in our power to avoid the type of corruption that has become so rampant elsewhere in the country, where audit results are ignored. This is clear when you see that some provinces have reported 0% and 6% clean audits, with no consequences.

How many stories have we seen emerge in the media and in commissions like the Zondo commission, where supply chain management and expenditure rules are not only bent, but shattered into shards which are then swept under the rug?

How many lavish spending sprees have gone unchecked, some of which fit, and some of which don’t fit into the rules laid out in the National Ministerial Handbook? Onerous rules are clearly not having the intended effect.

Good governance is about values and responsibility. It’s about hiring the best people who will guide the department both practically and ethically. It’s about creating a culture where civil servants practice accountability. It’s about ensuring that where we encounter incidents of corruption and maladministration, we take immediate action to root it out.

The auditor-general notes in his report that the Western Cape should not be “lulled into a false sense of comfort. Sustainable controls are a regular and permanent feature of operations and should always be closely monitored with strong preventative controls”.

This is why we are constantly working to put our own checks and controls in place above those set out by the auditor-general. Our ministerial handbook has stripped away the fancy frills that the national one still allows and I have committed to lifestyle audits for my cabinet.

Provinces are faced with budget cuts to pay for national government’s failure to inhibit corruption and despite this, the Western Cape is home to a growing population of people who see our province as one that holds opportunity and delivers services. I choose to focus my energy on these people, rather than on obsessive tick-box exercises because that is what a caring and responsive government should do. DM


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