Home South African Government had inadequate controls of R500 billion Covid-19 relief funds, says auditor-general

Government had inadequate controls of R500 billion Covid-19 relief funds, says auditor-general

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Institutions did not operate in a co-ordinated manner, which resulted in widespread fraud in PPE spend

Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke has decried the lack of co-ordination in the government and weak controls as regards its R500 billion Covid-19 relief fund for health and socio-economic alleviation which left it vulnerable to fraud and looting. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

AUDITOR-GENERAL Tsakani Maluleke has decried the lack of co-ordination in the government and weak controls as regards its R500 billion Covid-19 relief fund for health and socio-economic alleviation which left it vulnerable to fraud and looting.

Speaking at the inaugural  conference of the Southern African Institute of Government Auditors (Saiga) yesterday, Maluleke said with financial standards, government institutions did not operate in a co-ordinated manner, which had resulted in widespread fraud in the personal protective equipment (PPE) spend.

The auditor-general’s office had been asked to provide real time audits. which helped to give, in real time, assurances, insight and corrections.

“We found that controls, procurement systems were weak and, therefore, vulnerable to abuse. This resulted in incidents of fraud and resource leakage such as what we saw in the quest to provide PPE. Information systems were not agile enough. We found that data bases of government entities were not integrated, which resulted in funds not reaching beneficiaries at a time when they were needed the most,” Maluleke said.

Up to 2016, the World Economic Forum had hailed South Africa’s accounting and auditing standards as number one in the world, but in 2021 the country was in the middle of the ballpark, she said.

Maluleke said whether in public or private sphere, accountants and auditors had to return to the basics of ethical requirements to better manage resources as they were ethically required to, a trait that was fast getting lost in prioritising the needs of employers in either spheres.

“A distinguishing mark of the accounting profession is its acceptance of the responsibility to act in the public interest … professional responsibility is not to exclusively satisfy the needs of a private individual or public employer in acting in the public interest. We should observe and comply with the ethical requirements set out in  code of ethics,” she said.

Audit outcomes by Maluleke’s office revealed that if these initiatives had not landed in an environment of prevailing weaknesses in how government programmes were implemented, there would have been better impact with more people benefiting from the state’s largesse.

“Had we invested previously in much stronger controls in our public finance, we would not have reached that situation. It is time we sort that out … and see progressive and sustainable changes to strengthen accountability, transparency and performance of public sector institutions,” she said.

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