The Auditor General’s second special report on the financial management of government’s COVID-19 related-spending has found that there was insufficient care being taken to protect the government against financial loss and overpricing.

The AG’s office audited the spending of R145 billion allocated through the tabling of the supplementary budget in June last year.

The office says it has received an additional R50 million from Treasury to assist in implementing its new powers which include among others, holding financial or accounting officers personally responsible for amounts involved.

AG Tsakani Maluleke says if there was better monitoring for COVID-19 spending, some irregularities could have been avoided.

“We are concerned about the unfairness in the awarding of government business and we are also concerned that there is insufficient care that was being taken to protect the government against overpricing, against financial loss, against fraud and abuse of the system. We found that the procurement and contract management issues prevailed in the number of initiatives that were audited. The most prominent ones are the PPEs.”

Irregularities in 2018/19 financial year

The Auditor-General’s office in March 2020 identified 28 irregularities nationwide in the 2018/2019 financial year amounting to R2.81 billion.

The AG’s office is using its powers to reduce corruption. It has the power to issue a certificate of debt where an accounting officer has failed to recover losses from people or companies.

During the first phase, 28 material irregularities were identified.

Free State Human Settlements leads with 10 irregularities. It’s followed by rail agency Prasa with nine.

AG Office Business Executive Charles Baloyi says those responsible will be forced to act on the recommendations.

“It’s not going to be business as usual, where they just do not act on these recommendations. If you don’t act on recommendations, you might end up paying because you are failing in your responsibilities as an accounting officer as required by Section 35 of the PFMA and also Section 62 of MFMA.”

Political Analyst Asanda Saule Ngoasheng agrees, saying it is only when those found to have transgressed the law are punished, then things will start changing.

“If accountants are able to falsify reports and flout auditing rules with no consequences, then nothing is going to change. So, the AG and the Treasury working together, hold the possibility of some accountability. It holds the possibility of some financial managers understanding that they have a fiduciary role that they need to take seriously, that they have a role that they need to do properly. Otherwise, there are going to be personal consequences.”

The office says the second phase is already under way, and it will include 89 audits.