State sets lower target for good municipal audits

THE government has set another target for municipal audit outcomes, hoping to increase unqualified audit opinions to “at least” 75% by 2019, after only 9% of municipalities received clean audits in the latest outcome, which was released at the end of last month.

In 2009, a target of 100% clean audits was set to be achieved by this year, but the country’s 278 municipalities and 62 municipal entities fell far short of this goal. The latest report by the auditor-general showed little change in audit outcomes in municipalities since 2008-09. This time around the target being set is less ambitious, in recognition of the challenges of financial management faced by municipalities.

Already, over R1bn is spent each year on municipal support and capacity building, according to the latest medium-term strategic framework (MTSF) released by the government.

Frustration at poor service delivery expressed in protests has surged in recent years, with increasing perceptions of an uncaring government, especially at the coalface of delivery.

The African National Congress has acknowledged that a shift in the way municipalities are run is required as the 2016 local elections approach.

The MTSF indicates that by 2019 the government hopes that no municipalities will receive disclaimers or adverse findings. In the latest audit 18% received disclaimers. It hopes for a maximum of 25% qualified audits and 75% unqualified audits.

It hoped to increase public trust in local government from 51% in 2013-14 to 65% in 2019.

The dearth of skills among senior managers in local government has been blamed for the poor audit outcomes over the past five years.

The MTSF sets a target of ensuring 100% of all new senior management positions are filled by “competent and suitably qualified senior management”.

The MTSF said initiatives such as restoring public trust in local government, addressing poor governance, accountability and the shortage of skills, and eliminating undue political interference, were required.

The Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union believes improvement in audit outcomes can only happen when municipal management is committed to taking ownership of municipal performance practices.

The South African Municipal Workers Union was unable to respond to requests for comment on Sunday. General secretary Walter Theledi said the union would issue a statement on Monday.

After the release of the auditor general’s report, the Democratic Alliance said only “strong leadership” would turn around local government.

Municipal IQ said the lesson from the few municipalities which achieved clean audits was the importance of political commitment, coupled with strong internal controls supporting accountable managers and leaders, to improve the situation.

The five-year plan for local government rests heavily on the National Development Plan and includes the suggestion of a super director-general or a “cabinet secretary” to act as administrative head of the government, located in the Presidency. – Business Day Live

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