THE AG’S 100 YEAR PUBLICATION
BY GAVIN WOODS
This centennial review is essentially an historical account of the past 100 years of the Auditor-General in South Africa. While there were many accomplishments spread across these years which are worthy of acknowledgment, it would seem that the most noteworthy period, in terms of achievement, covers the last 25 odd years of the institution’s existence. As such, it would be of interest to elevate this era from the narrative of this publication so as to highlight its particular significance, not only regarding the Auditor-General but also the entire realm of government in South Africa.
During the earlier decades, public sector auditing was in the main about dedicated auditors-general and their diligent staff unobtrusively checking on state expenditures and scrutinising book-keeping records in order to comment on the quality of simple financial reports such as the annual appropriation statement. This is not to downplay the endeavours of a long line of earlier Auditors-General who worked purposefully towards improving levels of auditing competence, optimising operational independence within the strictures of prevailing legislation and promoting a culture of probity within the public sector auditees. It is rather to illustrate where the institution has come from and why, during those years, the institution of the Auditor-General remained somewhat anonymous and incidental in relation to public finances in the mind of the general public.
While the introduction of the Auditor-General Act of 1989, and more particularly the amendments to that act in 1992, increased the Auditor-General’s level of authority as well as independence, it was really the impact of the New Public Management school of thinking across the public sector world that both directly and indirectly led to the wide-reaching reforms undertaken by many supreme audit institutions over the past 20 years. The Office of the Auditor-General in South Africa became a leading proponent of these reforms.
History, however, very seldom turns on a single development and this is true of the road our Auditor-General has travelled. Fortuitously, it would seem, there had been developments within the institution immediately preceding the New Public Management reforms which inadvertently assisted with their successful implementation. In this part of the journey it is important to recognise the crucial roles played by Dr de Loor and Mr R P Wronsley, as former Auditors-General, and also by Prof. Bertie Loots, firstly as an advisor to the Auditor-General and then as Deputy Auditor-General. These enlightened individuals began a transformation process which saw the introduction of a number of initiatives to professionalise the Office. This, in turn, produced a more receptive environment for the introduction of the dramatic reforms which were to follow.
The pre-reform scene was further set by the Auditor-General in the immediate postapartheid period by his having gained international recognition for the South African Office and the audit standards it was maintaining. This exposure helped alert him to a range of reformist initiatives being adopted by leading supreme audit institutions in other parts of the world.
Shortly thereafter the first far-reaching change came about through the new Constitution which was enacted in 1996 and which required the Auditor-General to incorporate the pre-1994 Auditor-General offices of the former TBVC independent states into the South African office. This huge undertaking was, however, successfully completed under the watch of Auditor-General Henri Kluever. Thereafter the modernisation reforms began in earnest through the Public Finance Management Act of 1999 and the Municipal Finance Management Act of 2003. These acts, through a number of significant provisions, gave birth to a revolution within the South African public sector and, as a direct consequence, within the Office of the Auditor-General – the aftermath of which is still being felt today.
These acts demanded a momentous mind-shift for the entire institution as this not only gave real expression to the Constitution’s requirement of greater independence for the Auditor-General but also meaningfully expanded the institution’s operational mandate and accompanying responsibilities. The Auditor-General was now required to play a more pivotal role in the overall accountability arrangements at all three levels of government as well as meeting audit-related requirements of a number of other fundamental reforms such as higher accounting standards, accrual type accounting, enhanced corporate governance mechanisms and a measurable performance system for government departments and entities. The scope of the annual audit was further extended by the inclusion of balance sheet and performance information auditing.
The Auditor-General was also forced to respond to a provision in the two financial management acts which stipulated much tighter deadlines for the auditing of annual accounts of all government organisations. Considering the immensity of all these changes and the large number of audits it involved, the great success in meeting these challenges by Auditor-General Shauket Fakie and his deputy, Terence
Nombembe, must be acknowledged.
To help achieve and then maintain these considerable increases in performance, the then Auditor-General crafted the Public Audit Act of 2004 and steered it through the legislative process in Parliament. This act, which replaced both the Auditor-General Act and the Audit Arrangements Act, enhanced the authority and powers of the institution and provided for a number of key changes to practices and procedures in order meet the operational demands brought about by the new reforms.
The exemplary way in which the institution of the Auditor-General has managed these difficult challenges has seen the Auditor-General elevated to an even more central position in the public sector financial governance arena, resulting in the incumbent becoming a popular public figure due to the coverage the Office’s work receives via the country’s mainstream media. Today, the Auditor-General, as an institution, commands significant influence across all the organisations which make up government and has earned the respect and cooperation of both Parliament and the Executive regarding its independence - with the former being ever more reliant on its audit work as a means through which to exercise oversight of the latter. The Auditor-General has also gained further international recognition through the prominent role it has come to play in INTOSAI structures and activities and by having been awarded the audits of a number of United Nations-related organisations.
Thus, when we pause to acknowledge just how big the transformation obligations of the Auditor-General have been over the latter part of its history and just how successful it has been in meeting these obligations, we can understand why the country owes the institution a debt of gratitude. And it is when we learn in chapter 11 of this publication of the bold intention of Kimi Makwetu, the incumbent Auditor-General, to take these successes into the next 100 years that we can be confident that the transformation agenda will be ongoing and, as such, will raise the Auditor-General’s effectiveness to even higher levels in the years ahead.