South Africa’s audit independence tops World Bank rankings

South Africa’s audit authority is free from undue influence, operates without fear or favour, and conducts its work effectively. This is the view of the World Bank, which ranked it one of only two countries to get a perfect score in the latest report on the independence of national audit institutions. 

In its recent Supreme Audit Institutions Independence Index, the World Bank assessed 118 countries and scored them out of 10, based on indicators such as financial and operational autonomy. 

Together with the Seychelles, South Africa was the only country to receive full marks – signaling that “all independence indicators were met”. Seventeen other countries received the next highest grade.

The criteria for the index was set out in the 1977 Lima Declaration, which encourages audit authorities to actively work towards promoting good governance, transparency, and accountability.

The auditor-general’s office welcomed the recognition on Thursday morning. It is a “credit to our country’s constitution which jealously protects the independence of our office to carry out its work without any due interference,” said auditor general Tsakani Maluleke.

“[The findings] clearly demonstrate how our country has allowed the national audit office to support our democracy. It is equally an endorsement for the work done by those who came before us and conducted themselves and the organisation to the highest level of integrity which protected the reputation of the organisation.”

By coincidence, the World Bank’s release comes shortly after the auditor general’s office released its own damning report on local government audit outcomes for the 2019-20 financial year.

At the release of the report, Maluleke was scathing about the backslide many of South Africa’s 257 municipalities had taken. With citizens paying the toll for poor services, she called for immediate and drastic action.

“Audit results under the outgoing administration have demonstrated little sign of improvement and we have observed the deteriorating state of local government,” she said. “When it took over, the administration inherited 33 clean audits. Unfortunately, it has now regressed to only 27 clean audits. We, therefore, call on leadership to embrace their responsibility to drive change if we are to make a difference.”

Among the more startling figures was the R26-billion of irregular expenditure that had been identified — a number expected to grow as probes continue. More concerning in the perception of the auditor general was that half of the municipalities had not investigated their own irregular expenditure, fostering a culture of non-accountability.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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