Tshwarelo Hunter Mogakane
Pretoria - The Mpumalanga government has praised the province’s tourism agency for obtaining a clean audit for the first time since the 2007/8 financial year.
The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency was launched by the then premier Thabang Makwetla in December 2006. It came about following the merger between the Mpumalanga Tourism Authority and Mpumalanga Parks Board.
In 1998, the tourism board was embroiled in an international scandal involving an MEC and two executives from its board.
The three were fingered in issuing promissory notes allowing the use of 32 provincial game parks as collateral for international loans amounting to more than R300 million.
The documents had been issued without approval from the Reserve Bank, Treasury or the Cabinet.
The deal was later reversed after the MEC admitted to signing the documents, but claimed he had no idea what he was signing.
After the merger, the new entity struggled with accountability issues as it was often a terrain for political battles and sporadic financial scandals.
This changed in 2021 when the provincial cabinet decided to hire young professionals to head the entity at board level.
Since then, the new board has been repositioning the agency, directing it to reconnect with poor communities along Mpumalanga’s tourism routes and landscape by involving traditional authorities in getting participation from locals.
“The board is pleased to announce that it has received a clean audit opinion from the auditor-general of South Africa for the 2021/22 financial year. This is the first time the entity receives a clean audit opinion since the merger,” said Mpumalanga
Tourism and Parks Agency spokesperson Kholofelo Nkambule.
Nkambule said the agency’s main task was to provide for the accountable management, sustainable use of natural resources, promotion of tourism and nature conservation in Mpumalanga.
Provincial government spokesperson George Mthethwa said the entity had made the province proud.
“A clean audit is a set target of every public institution. At the core of this target is a quest to give the taxpayers confidence about the management of the public purse. The Office of the Premier congratulates the board, the management and staff for the achievement. The fact that the audit was performed by the AG, a Chapter 9 institution, signifies the achievement,” said Mthethwa.
Board chairperson, Victor Mashego, said accountability was the focus of the new board.
“The outcome restores public trust in the public entity and confirms that public funds are used as required. The board has been in office for almost a year. When we came in, we found that management had started with strengthening controls and we solidified those efforts,” he said.
The chairperson added that the team remained disciplined even though the tourism industry had taken a knock during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In a space where state-owned entities receive harsh criticism, we are delighted by the discipline, good corporate governance and prudent financial management portrayed by the team. The clean audit outcome shows the resilience in the team’s determination to do good despite the negative impact and uncertainties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the financial pressures as well as the struggling economy,” said Mashego.
Acting chief executive, Mduduzi Vilakazi, said the audit opinion was good for the agency’s brand both domestically and internationally.
“The AG has commended the management for implementing the audit action plans emanating from previous financial year recommendations. The onus is on the management to continue with tighter controls and improvement of our processes.
“We will continue with our efforts of maintaining a positive reputation for the entity. It is a long journey which requires a consistent and co-ordinated effort with our broader stakeholders in the tourism and conservation sectors,” said Vilakazi.
At the time of the launch of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency over 15 years ago, Makwetla said the merger would bring together the various functions of the two organisations under one roof.
park“This will improve the checks and balances and eliminate situations where one parastatal might pursue projects and policies that are harmful to another’s plight,” said Makwetla at the time.