Deliberations in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) show that the accountability model around the financial management of government departments isn’t working.
The current model allows directors general to continue coming to the committee without solutions to the problems reported on, allows Ministers to avoid answering questions on financial management in their departments and has no real mechanism for escalation, should the committee reject the reports presented or the minimal solutions proffered.
SCOPA needs to work differently.
At yesterday’s SCOPA meeting I suggested that an alternative model for effective accountability needs to be designed. At the upcoming SCOPA strategic planning session, I will propose:
circumstances under which breakdowns in financial management can be referred to the President either to obtain a directive for investigations by the SIU or for action to be taken against the relevant Minister.
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has indicated that R30 billion in public funds is lost every year as a result of fraud and corruption at government level. In May, the Auditor General, Terrence Nombembe, said that the management of supply chains, service delivery and the accuracy of government reports were deteriorating and attributed the problem in part to the absence of a culture of accountability.
Such a culture has to be instilled from an executive level and SCOPA is uniquely placed to ensure that Ministers answer for the failures in their departments.
What should happen in government departments and entities is for the financial management function to generate accurate and reliable information that should then be tested, monitored and evaluated by the internal audit department and considered by the internal audit committee. This information is then sampled by the Auditor General to generate an audit opinion.
SCOPA is briefed by various departments on their audit findings. As it stands, officials are often unable to provide coherent replies to questions on the reasons for financial failures and do not have clear plans to address management deficiencies. Although Ministers’ appearances at SCOPA have improved following the DA’s objections to their absence, they are often shielded from direct questioning and often make opening or closing statements that offer no real solutions.
It is no surprise that Ministers are not keen to discuss the financial management of their departments. Responses to DA parliamentary questions indicate that, on average, almost 50% of Ministers did not meet with their internal audit committees over the last two financial years. Whilst such meetings are not a legislative requirement, the level of fruitless and wasteful expenditure in various government departments should surely have prompted an increased level of vigilance from Ministers.
SCOPA must advocate for a framework of accountability and an escalation model as outlined above. Ministers and the President must take appropriate steps where government departments continue to report on breakdowns in financial management and control that result in unjustifiable leakages from the public purse.
The culture of non-accountability must change and SCOPA must champion the necessary changes.