Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Lecture: Auditor General offers candid insights about good governance
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 18/08/2023

​​“Good governance is the foundation upon which a successful nation is built. It's not merely a buzzword, it is a commitment to transparency, accountability and responsible leadership." This was the key message of Tsakani Maluleke, South Africa's Auditor General (AGSA), at the annual Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Honorary Lecture held at STIAS on 14 August.

The lecture, hosted by the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development at Stellenbosch University (SU) and supported by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Foundation), aims to create a platform for student leaders, academics and the broader international community to engage critically with current political and governance issues.

Slabbert's legacy remains profoundly relevant as South Africa prepares to commemorate thirty years of democracy, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers said in his opening address. “His ideals of dialogue, inclusivity, democratic values and sound governance continue to have an impact and to shape the ways we address our numerous challenges, but also how we think about the future. And our commitment to honouring his legacy through the institute that carries his name reflects our dedication to academic excellence, democratic values and the promotion of responsible citizenship," De Villiers noted.

In her speech, Maluleke emphasized the need for strong leadership and ethical governance to address the challenges facing South Africa. She said over the years, local government institutions have deteriorated and the impact is seen in poor service delivery, the continued decline of infrastructure, and the inability to get projects off the ground.

“Sadly, our nation's history has shown us the dire consequences of poor governance. It is our responsibility to learn from those lessons to ensure that our public institutions are fortified against any transgressions," Maluleke said.

She lamented the lack of leadership in public institutions and said the success of the AGSA can be attributed to the fact that it is a professional environment that enjoys stable, competent and capable leadership. “The World Bank assessed 118 countries and AGSA was one of only two national audit offices in the world that are enjoying full independence to carry out their audit mandates in their respective countries," Maluleke pointed out.

Additionally, she highlighted the role AGSA plays to train future accountants. There are currently 1 200 graduates in the institution's training programme, the biggest such initiative in the country. She stressed the importance of a public sector institution producing hundreds of chartered accountants (CA's). “Every year now, we're either in the second or third spot in terms of delivering the highest number of new CA's; the majority black, majority women."

She reminded the audience of a quote by Slabbert saying South Africa is faced with problems for which the world has not yet found solutions. This should not make us despondent, she cautioned. “I believe we can draw courage from this. If ever there was a challenge and inspiration for us. Let it be that. I believe that South Africans, with our shared and pressing challenges, are well poised to find the solutions that the world seeks."

Maluleka spoke extensively about the importance of holding government officials accountable and ensuring that public funds are used for their intended purposes.

“Far too many resources and funds do not go towards the intended purpose, which exposes citizens to tremendous hardship. Roads and other infrastructure are not maintained properly and citizens are harmed by inadequate access to quality health care. They are harmed by unpredictable access to clean water, as well as increasingly polluted environments."

The recent Hammanskraal water disaster, where 29 people died of cholera due to infected water supplies, is a tragic example of poor governance, Maluleke said.

“As the audit office we have been reporting on concerns around the quality and the state of the wastewater treatment plant at Rooiwal, and we have raised audit findings and given recommendations on how that plant ought to be fixed. We have also raised insights around the impact on water quality given to residents arising from this dysfunctional plant.

“Our findings and recommendations were very similar to what the South African Human Rights Commission had also issued. There was very little traction in terms of implementing the recommendations by people leading the institution, and sadly people lost their lives. For us, it was a moment of reflection on how we can get better at influencing swifter action at things we have identified," she said.

According to Maluleke, last year municipalities spent R1.6 billion on consultants to help them compile financial statements instead of investing in the skills in-house to deal with asset management. “One should ask yourself, who are these consultants? Who trained them? What communities do they live in and thrive in? What part of society celebrates their success when this is what they do? If as citizens we do not embrace our duty to interact differently with the public sector, we will continue to see a weakening of capacity in public institutions, and then we all lose."

Maluleke said there is a need to professionalise local government to ensure functional municipalities and improved service delivery. As AG she has shifted the focus to performance. “The conversation should change beyond debits and credits and irregular expenditure to engage with what is happening with available funds. It's not acceptable to comply with the rules of the AG but do nothing in between.

“I would like to issue an invitation to all of us as citizens to start engaging more around the topic of performance information. When a municipality doesn't report faithfully on what they've done with public funds, that's when you know that they have not performed a mandate. The difference between an institution that is delivering on mandate, I believe, sits in that performance information."

Maluleke also discussed the enhanced powers of the AG to fight corruption in South Africa. These powers give the AG the authority to ensure public entities follow up on the recommendations issued by the AG. Although such powers help the AG to enforce accountability more effectively, Maluleke said her office cannot take over the role of other authorities. “The added powers are there to help us make a contribution. It's important that our role remains that of an independent auditor. We're not specialised investigators or law enforcement agents, and neither should we be. I'm not sure you want auditors walking around with handguns! But we can refer irregularities for investigation." She cited two recent instances where AGSA referrals to law enforcement agencies resulted in legal action against the culprits.

Maluleka ended her address on a hopeful note, reminding the audience that the public sector is populated by many public servants who want to do good. “So, when we complain, let's remember that there are compatriots of ours, who are working extremely hard to try and make the system work for us. Let's also remember that protecting institutions is the only way we're going to sustain improvements and to ultimately deliver a better life for all."

 PHOTO: Henk Oets