AG prepares for risks that come with tough new law
Johannesburg- Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu fears that the new tough law giving his office more powers to go after rogue government officials may lead to more threats and acts of intimidation.
There have been 42 threats and acts of intimidation reported since May last year, including the latest, which happened in April when eavesdropping devices were found in the eThekwini Metro’s premises.
“We foresee that the threats and intimidation risk may increase,” Makwetu said of the likely consequences of his new powers to go after national, provincial and local government officials responsible for incurring financial losses.
Of the 42 incidents, 29 were reported in the auditor-general’s provincial business units, with the North West having the most with eight, while KwaZulu-Natal had seven.
The Eastern and the Western Cape each reported four threats and acts of intimidation.
Makwetu said six of the 42 incidents were reported to the police, but only two were still under investigation, while the remaining four had been closed owing to a lack of evidence.
Nationally there have been 13 reported incidents.
The Public Audit Amendment Act 2018 states that Makwetu must take appropriate remedial action against accounting officers (directors-general and heads of departments) or accounting authorities (boards) for failing to implement recommendations of his audit reports.
It also makes provision for accounting officers or authorities to recover financial losses incurred by their departments or public entities from the responsible officials.
Should this fail, Makwetu is empowered to issue certificates of debt to accounting officers or authorities to repay the amounts lost and issue certificates of debt to the responsible ministers to collect the debt.
Makwetu said he was concerned about sporadic instances of threats and intimidation against auditors in the course of their duties, although the risk had not yet gone out of control.
Incidents reported include audit team members being held hostage by a contractor demanding to be paid by the City of Tshwane in October last year. In the same month, Makwetu’s team was informed by an employee of the Moretele Local Municipality in Mathibestad, North West, that an auditor was killed after raising an adverse finding. Other threats include a team member who was shot at a guest house in the Emfuleni Local Municipality in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng, also in October, and another auditor who received a phone call threatening him and his family in the eThekwini Metro in May.
Makwetu’s office has developed initiatives including collaborating and partnering with the police and the development of a threat and intimidation strategy. Auditors have also been trained on safety and security awareness and responsiveness to threats.
A reporting tool has also been developed to track and report incidents, while a panic button initiative has been rolled out at some high-risk departments, municipalities and public institutions audited by the auditor-general. Makwetu said his office had acted immediately where auditors had been threatened or intimidated.