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File photo.

Ethical oversight essential in assurance

By Opinion Time of article published Jun 22, 2021

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The public sector accountability value chain includes many assurance providers and oversight structures that are well placed to realise the benefits of combined assurance.

In the public sector, the focus of combined assurance is the coordination of the assurance activities of all assurance providers by those charged with governance.

The role-players in combined assurance and oversight include mayors, municipal councils, municipal managers, municipal public accounts committees, public accounts committees, portfolio committees, audit committees, internal audit and external audit.

The role of accounting officers and authorities in combined assurance is critical, as it establishes an appropriate control environment and then supports the combined assurance model where assurance activities can be coordinated.

The responsibilities of accounting officers and authorities are outlined in the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) and other enabling legislation.

The role of the accounting officer and authority in ensuring an effective internal control system is critical for mitigating risks to reliable financial reporting, credible reporting on service delivery and compliance with legislation.

This responsibility must not be underestimated. Implementing a combined assurance model at institutions relies on accounting officers and authorities effectively carrying out their responsibilities and functions under the PFMA and MFMA.

Accounting officers and authorities can ensure that effective internal controls are in place for financial and performance management and compliance with legislation by:

– Providing effective and ethical leadership and exercising oversight of financial and performance reporting and compliance with legislation.

– Implementing effective human resource management to ensure that adequate and sufficiently skilled staff are employed, their performance is monitored, and there are proper consequences for poor performance.

– Establishing policies and procedures to enable sustainable internal control practices and monitoring the implementation of action plans to address internal control deficiencies and audit findings.

It is important to invest adequate and sustainable internal controls that prevent financial loss, fraud and corruption, the misuse of public resources and poor service delivery.

When internal control activities are effective in preventing accountability failures, assurance activities can be focused and well coordinated.

Many accounting officers are chartered accountants, associated general accountants and accounting technicians, and therefore have a professional responsibility to uphold the reputation of the accountancy profession.

As members of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, they are required to exercise professional competence and due care, integrity and objectivity.

Accounting officers and authorities must have a high level of ethics and adherence to the principles of Batho Pele that apply to the public service.

The amendments and supporting regulations to the Public Audit Act, which came into effect on April 1, 2019, were developed mainly to enhance the powers of the Auditor-General of SA, by enabling the institution to facilitate consequence management and take remedial action.

* Alice Muller is the head of portfolio: audit support at the Auditor-General of South Africa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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