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By Kwazi Dlamini

The World Bank (WB) has ranked the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA) and the Seychelles Office of the Auditor-General as the only two national audit offices that enjoy full independence to carry out their audit mandate in their respective countries.

In its Supreme Audit Institutions Independence Index: 2021 Global Synthesis Report, released on 4 August 2021, the WB assessed supreme audit institutions (SAIs) in 118 countries. The report aims to inform and better equip WB task teams and development partners to support the strengthening of SAIs in client countries, and addressing the lack of independence of some SAIs.

SAIs are ranked on a scale from A to E, where A is a perfect score of 10, indicating that all independence indicators were met, and E falls between 0 and 5.5, indicating the opposite situation. Only South Africa and Seychelles were up to the top standard.

The WB’s results show that more effort is still needed to achieve the total independence of SAIs – vital because independence promotes good governance, transparency and accountability. SAIs also provide an objective assessment of government programmes, policies, and operations and are able to detect whether public funds are managed responsibly.

“Independence is a critical foundation for the effective functioning of the SAI. Truly independent SAIs can fulfil their mandate to reduce waste and the abuse of public resources,” the report notes.

As stipulated in chapter 9 of the South African constitution, the audit office must remain impartial and be able to fulfil its mandate without interference. South Africa’s AGSA has achieved this admirably – in no small way through Corruption Watch’s continued push for transparency and public participation in the appointment of the auditor-general and deputy-auditor-general, and indeed, in the appointment of leaders in all law enforcement and Chapter 9 institutions.

Since 2016, when former public protector Thuli Madonsela finished her term of office, the organisation has advocated for a fair, transparent appointment process based on merit.

Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke said, in a statement, the World Bank ranking “reflects on our country’s constitution which jealously protects the independence of our office to carry out its work without any due interference”.

The report is a reflection of the support the national audit office receives from Parliament and other oversight structures, she said. “The support and trust in our work is evidenced by the various political parties’ unanimous endorsement of the amendments to the Public Audit Act, which we, as the national audit office continue to implement.”

She added that inadequate budgets can hinder the effective operation of SAIs, as these institutions have to pay salaries, acquire resources and the necessary equipment to ensure their work is not compromised.

“Our involvement and recognition in the international arena is a significant mark of achievement. Not only for our office, but also for our country. This announcement is the good news that our country currently needs to show the world that, while we have challenges like other nations, we are still a global force to be reckoned with,” Maluleke concluded.