The Auditor-General (AGSA) has briefed Parliament on its role during the Covid-19 disaster, and given insight into possible delays in the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) and Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) audits. Both audit processes are crucial to managing the use of the public purse as they track and identify irregular spending, among others.

During a 22 May briefing before the Standing Committee on the Auditor-General, auditor-general (AG) Kimi Makwetu and his deputy Tsakani Maluleke explained the measures put in place to allow the AG’s team to continue working efficiently throughout the lockdown.

The committee welcomed the measures announced, saying it appreciated AGSA’s proactiveness in the manner in which it will audit the material procurement. This applies particularly to transversal procurement, distribution of funds and related transactions in the R500-billion fiscal relief package.

Makwetu said his proactive auditing approach was informed partly by the experiences of countries that had also suffered disasters, such as Indonesia and Japan. He noted the particular risks during such times of the use of state resources for purposes other than what they were intended for, as procurement procedures were relaxed or amended during emergencies. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the relief package on 21 April. Corruption Watch has urged the government to put measures in place to curb possible corruption relating to this package and also to act swiftly against those found to be abusing these resources for their own benefit. 

Of the R500-billion, said the AG, R230-billion was under AGSA’s purview and it already had teams and procedures in place to monitor these large sums. Although he did not go into details about the different procedures, Makwetu said data analytics would play a big role.

The parliamentary committee said it too was concerned at the opportunities for what it termed “integrity violations” inherent in the administration of such a large package. 

To date, while there have been numerous allegations of corruption, the action taken has been correspondingly disappointing.

AGSA focusing on Covid-19 funds

The committee heard that AGSA had acquired tools to enable it to work remotely while ensuring the security of its operations and its teams, as well as the detection of fraud, particularly in high-risk transactions.

Makwetu also informed the committee that his office would undertake special audits that will focus on how the funds allocated to the Covid-19 pandemic were spent. The committee expressed its support for his stance on this, saying that although there is emergency procurement taking place as a result of the pandemic, these transactions should take place within the parameters of the controls that are in place.

Committee members inquired extensively as to AGSA’s capacity, and asked if they could help to ensure AGSA was properly capacitated to do its work.

The committee suggested the appointment of a role like the US Special Inspector-General, and said this role would differ from that of AGSA, which considers the spending of money after it has been spent and generally at the end of the financial year. The Special Inspector-General, on the other hand, would have the power to conduct direct oversight and investigations over the making, purchasing, management and dispersal of taxpayer money made available by the state for the purposes of Covid-19 relief.

The AG replied that his office was confident it could handle the new tasks, since a two-month PFMA postponement (see below) gave them more time to implement the Covid-19 proactive audit processes before it became necessary to tackle the PFMA audits. 

Deadlines extended for PFMA

PFMA auditees, Makwetu said, must now comply within two months after the deadline in the relevant sections of the PFMA, while National Treasury has extended the deadline for submitting annual financial statements to 31 July 2020, from the previous date of 31 May. He said that because AGSA’s reporting deadline depends on the date of the submission of the annual financial statements, it means that the PFMA deadline for signing off on audit reports is now 30 September 2020.

Although not part of the PFMA, the minister of Higher Education has granted a similar extension of two months to technical and vocational education and training institutions as well as community education and training facilities. This means that the reporting timeline for these will now also be 31 July 2020.

At the same briefing AGSA tabled a preliminary MFMA report. The committee decided not to engage with the report straight away, as the AG is currently consulting with various stakeholders on the contents of the report, which might change as a result. The committee will engage with the AG as soon as that report has been finalised.