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Kimi Makwetu’s legacy: Auditing as a social and moral contract

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Just over three years ago, Kimi Makwetu delivered an address titled “More than a profession — a social and moral contract”. The crux of his speech was the question of what the practice of auditing in the public interest meant to him. 

As a seasoned professional in the field of auditing, Makwetu’s characterisation of his trade as more than just a profession was reflective of the alchemy between his sense of public duty and the commitment to professionalism. 

As our recent history shows, being a public servant in South Africa is, at best, a risky endeavour. 

And when the job falls at the intersection point of public interest, public resources and politics, the risk of despondency is ever-present. 

When Makwetu moved into the position of deputy auditor general in 2007, it signalled a move from the relative comforts of the private sector to the coalface of the civil service at a time when public institutions were under siege. By the time he took on the job of auditor general in 2013, the civil service had gained a reputation as the place one goes to when all else fails. 

The ability to then transform the office of the auditor general into an institution that recruits, cultivates and grooms talented professionals with a keen sense of commitment to the public interest is a testament to his methodical leadership style. 

But it was in mastering the ability to respond to the evolving nature of his job that Makwetu’s legacy was best illustrated. 

As more and more errant civil servants failed in their custody of public resources with little consequence, Makwetu took the bold decision to initiate and champion the amendments to the Public Audit Act to narrow the gap between accounting reports and accountability. 

This year, as the looting of public resources escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic, Makwetu had the presence of mind to institute “live audits” that are a departure from the traditional audit practice and enable us to more readily hold custodians of public resources accountable. 

Last year, when the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa honoured Makwetu with the Lifetime Achievement award, colleagues and friends defined him as a living monument to integrity. 

Those of us who have been fortunate to know him professionally and personally are left with the lingering impression that his was a career that transcended the profession and sought to centralise the duty to the public at large — the social and moral contract as our fundamental contribution to the nation. 

As a leader of a profession in turmoil during an age of turbulence, the lessons Makwetu imparted were recognised beyond South Africa’s borders. His last appointment – to the Independent Audit Advisory Committee of the United Nations — was the natural progression of a dedicated servant of Africa into a global leader of distinction. 

His death leaves a void in the profession, the nation and the world. The challenge for all of us is to do whatever we can to live up to his legacy.

Farewell Zikhali, Jojo, may the sun never set on so glorious a human legacy. 

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Khaya Sithole
Khaya Sithole is a chartered accountant, academic and activist who writes regularly for the Mail & Guardian and discusses the issues raised in his columns on his Kaya FM show, On The Agenda, every Monday from 8pm to 9pm

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