The Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) is the supreme audit institution (SAI) of South Africa, established in 1911. The AGSA is the only institution that is mandated by the Constitution to audit and report on how the government is spending the South African taxpayers’ money.
South Africa’s new constitution, adopted in 1996, bestowed upon the institution expanded roles and responsibilities, to enable it to fulfil its mandate as a Chapter 9 institution. The AGSA undertakes its responsibilities guided by the Public Audit Act 25 of 2004 (PAA) as amended in 2019.
In line with its mandate to oversee government’s use of public funds in the interests of good governance and efficient service delivery, the AGSA annually produces audit reports on all government departments, public entities, municipalities and public institutions. Over and above these entity-specific reports, the audit outcomes are analysed in general reports that cover both the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) cycles. In addition, reports on discretionary audits such as performance audits, and other special audits are also produced.
The AGSA has since 2005-06, in consultation with the National Treasury, gradually phased in audits of service delivery or performance information published by public entities including departments, municipalities and agencies. This is in addition to the audits on the efficient and legal use of the public funds disbursed to entities of the state. We audit and issue to management, and those charged with governance at departments and municipalities, ﬁndings on their published service delivery and financial information.
The AGSA, as a Chapter 9 institution under the South African constitution exists to strengthen democracy and thereby, make a difference to the lives of citizens (International Standard for SAIs, INTOSAI-P 12). The cornerstone of South Africa’s constitutional democracy is the Bill of Rights. For the AGSA to strengthen democracy, it must in its own, unique way give effect to the fundamental human rights entrenched in Chapter 2 of the constitution. The missions of most civil society organisations (CSOs) are in some way tied back to basic human rights and the service delivery expectations of our citizens. CSOs are therefore better positioned to feed knowledge of basic human rights and how these are given effect on the ground back into the work that AGSA does.
According to the World Bank, civil society is “a wide array of non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious, or philanthropic considerations”. Examples include: community groups, non-governmental organisations, labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and foundations.
SAIs have realized that we can enrich our audit and therefore enhance our value and benefits to the citizens through appropriate engagements with CSOs
This was given impetus through the XXIII INCOSAI Outcomes Report of 2019 (“the Moscow Declaration”), when the INTOSAI community recognised the importance of engaging with citizens, acknowledging that “public engagement tools catalyze inspiration in the public, increase public trust, enable concentration of mutual efforts, and encourage innovative solutions to public challenges”. SAIs may therefore choose to work with civil society organisations as an intermediary and a bridge between SAIs and citizens.
As key accountability institutions in a rapidly evolving socio-economic context, an increasing number of SAIs recognise the value of deepening engagements with civil society as a way of maintaining their relevance to enable value-adding and impactful auditing. Engagements with civil society at various stages of the audit process can provide information that will enhance the SAI’s understanding of its fast-evolving operating environment and key audit risks. In addition, transparency, accountability, democratic participation and public trust are enhanced through engagements with civil society.
Since the 1990s, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been increasingly playing a more constructive and active role in society. The provision of basic services has been a particular area of influence for civil society organisations.
In South Africa, CSOs have a much longer history of involvement in being able to shape developments in the country, starting with our struggle for democracy.
While CSOs have also had a role in holding the auditing sector to account, this relationship has been strengthened amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and as with many sectors, the pandemic has provided opportunities to set the tone for models of collaboration and co-operation going forward.
As the AGSA conducted social audits on the way in which public funds were used to support the country’s efforts to fight the pandemic, CSOs were engaged to explore mutually beneficial opportunities for sharing information. This experience guides a more formalised process to strengthen engagements going forward.
CSOs and their networks are an important vehicle through which the outcomes of the work of the AGSA can be disseminated, while helping to drive stronger citizen engagement with the country’s democratic processes. They also play a significant role in the accountability ecosystem.
The AGSA exists to strengthen democracy and, through this, to make a difference in the lives of citizens. This mandate is closely aligned with Chapter 2 of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. With CSOs also working to improve access to services and ultimately to ensure that the basic human rights of citizens are protected and safeguarded, there is a strong alignment between the work of CSOs and the AGSA.
We have seen from our counterparts around the world how structured and systematic two-way engagement between supreme audit institutions and CSOs, based on sound principles, have added unique value to citizens. This will be overriding principle of engagement as we explore more effective and efficient ways of working together toward mutually beneficial outcomes.
Internationally, representatives of the global SAI community have been increasingly leveraging the role of CSOs in society to democratise audit processes, deepen active citizenship and enhance the effectiveness of SAIs. In fact, 75% of respondents in a recent survey, conducted as part of the development of the Framework for SAI’s engagement with civil society by the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI’s) Capacity Building Committee (CBC), agreed that public support for SAIs is generated by their engagement with civil society.
The following benefits have been demonstrated when SAIs and CSOs come together:
Interacting with citizens through, amongst others, CSOs has been a principle of engagement within the AGSA since 2016. This will, however, be deepened in a rapidly changing socio-economic context where more transparency and accountability with regard to the use of public funds is demanded.
The AGSA will conduct a mapping exercise of the CSO environment throughout the country to evaluate those with the strongest alignment to the strategic objectives of the AGSA and consider the most effective ways of engagement. Globally, SAIs tend to engage with civil society in at least three ways:
The work of the AGSA is, in all respects, guided by its constitutional mandate and rests on the principles of integrity and independence. These principles will guide its engagement strategy with CSOs.
Material irregularities in government as at 15 October 2021