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Auditor general’s hand grenade fizzles and splutters

Auditor general Terence Nombembe has lobbed his annual hand grenade into the laps of the politicians, the local government audit report. As always, it is packed with explosive material.

Sadly, however, the incendiary fizzles and splutters but never explodes. While the collapse of local government annually excites ritualistic consternation and lamentation, nothing much is done to prevent it continuing.

This despite a growing awareness within the ANC that voter disillusionment correlates with failed service delivery, in which the critical factor is the slide of local government into a morass of corruption and incompetence. 
It is a critical factor in the growth of opposition parties, especially the Democratic Alliance, which makes much of its civic competence.

It’s in local government that the cost of ANC cadre deployment and nepotism can best be quantified. In 72% of municipalities the AG identifies incompetent officialdom as a critical factor in the failure to meet financial governance standards. 

Mayors and councillors can’t or won’t exercise oversight, laments Nombembe, and some 84% of municipal accounting officers fail to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent non-compliance. 

Only 5% of municipalities, not one a metro, got completely unqualified audits. Irregular expenditure reached R10-billion, up from R6-billion last year.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. The AG audited only 768 municipal contracts and 6 587 quotations, a tiny fraction of the tender-related expenditure by local government. 

Nombembe specifically attributed the bleak audit result to a lack of performance management and accountability, noting that ‘only when the leadership has set a tone of decisively dealing with … malpractice’ will matters improve. 

Government of course knows this. President Jacob Zuma started his term promising that the watchwords of his administration would be service delivery, made possible by rigorous performance management and accountability.

 So Zuma will no doubt fire the minister of local government, as well as that of co-operative governance and traditional affairs. Not likely in Zuma’s presidential party nomination year. 

Instead we are supposed to be placated by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s promises of better treasury oversight of procurement, since without oversight and punishments, ‘a level of impunity’ develops [and] at the moment, those consequences are not there.’

On the other hand, there is not that much for the DA to crow about either. After successive years of unqualified audits, Cape Town failed to achieved one, mainly because of the award of contracts to councillors, officials, and their friends and family.

It was a faintly muted Western Cape Premier Helen Zille who this week promised various interventions from her DA administration in response to the stagnating standards of local government in the province There was no mention of the deterioration in performance by the jewel-in-the-crown, Cape Town.

In fact, of the five municipalites nationwide – Baviaans in the Eastern Cape, Mossel Bay, Overstrand, Swartland and Theewaterskloof municipalities in the Western Cape and Midvaal in Gauteng – that the DA have controlled for more than five years and in 2011 showed off as ‘model municipalities’ in terms in terms of service delivery criteria, only Swartland achieved an entirely unqualified financial audit.

Pressed by Eyewitness News, Zille said that the provincial government would certainly oversee Cape Town now that it knew there was a problem and that the mayor and chief financial officer ‘must give us answers’. But just to prove that municipal impudence knows no party political boundaries, Cape Town initial response was that the audit outcome was ‘old news’ and, in any case, it viewed the irregularities as ‘minor’. 

Unlike the ANC, DA councillors and officials squander and steal only small amounts of money? Well, that’s okay then.

Since then deputy-mayor, Ian Neilson, has responded with a more detailed analysis of the audit and the corrective measures that Cape Town has taken. The other 300 or so errant municipalities and civic institutions remain tjoepstil, many of them so incompetent that they are probably still unaware that the AG has reported.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


  1. bernpm bernpm 28 July 2012

    A staff survey of all civil servants could give an insight into the underlying reasons for this general failure and the basis for an overal clean up.

    Check: management skills, accounting skills, business (negotiation) skills, basic legal skills, attitude towards ethics, reading skills and writing skills.

    Plotting a network graph of friend and family relations per individu would give insight in undesired relationships (sofware to do this is available).

    Drop all race and gender related requirements.

    In a country where the “speaker of parliament” is married to the grosly failing Minister of basic Education we cannot expect a stern debate and adequate response on the education issues on hand.

  2. Dave Harris Dave Harris 29 July 2012

    Its laughable to hold up the DA being an example of efficiency because audit results claim that “DA councillors and officials squander and steal only small amounts of money”, while there are constant riots in the DA controlled WCape reminiscent of the apartheid days!
    Just today, there were more riots in Strandfontein near Philippi, similar to the riots near Hout Bay and Cape Town CBD recently. The underlying cause of these riots is because the white tribal DA only caters to the interests of the rich and black politicians like Patricia De Lille, are simply scapegoats.

    Fixating only on audit results shows a simplistic reasoning and utter lack of understanding on how municipal governments function across the world. More importantly is dismisses the great strides made in delivering the basics to the masses since our liberation – something you avoid writing about!

    Criticism of government performance is usually always constructive in a democracy. Your criticism however, is invariably mean spirited, myopic and lacks a basic understanding of our challenges in delivering basic services to the majority. Thus your blog’s primary purpose focuses on scoring cheap political points instead of engaging constructively to strengthen our democracy e.g. an comparative analysis of the audit to other systems around the world and an in-depth analysis of the underlying causes of the audit results.

  3. MLH MLH 29 July 2012

    The auditor general is lucky if most of the people employed to take responsibility for this facet of government delivery even understand what he’s talking about. His warnings fall on deaf ears.

  4. GC GC 29 July 2012

    There is a perception among the population of smaller B category municipalities that the elected party official is responsible for service delivery in the respective wards.
    If this is correct what does the Municipal Manager and his manderins do?
    If incorrect what do the elected councillors do?
    The IDP process of establishing community need, is advertised and discussed by ward council committees – who have no teeth – and the population does not have the capacity to object at this stage – or they are simply ignored. Delivery is only achieved only where the money has been allocated – by the Municipal Manager or the Councillors – nobody seems to know which one does the allocating of the funds.
    An investigation is needed to establish if donations made to the election of officials electioneering costs is not perhaps “paid back” by having expenditure manipulated to suit the pre-election donors of funds preferred needs.

  5. The Creator The Creator 30 July 2012

    What bothers me is that this is the only way municipalities are rated. Obviously if you fail to keep all the slips for your spending, there is a possibility that you are hiding something with the missing slips. However, it would be nice if there were a Deliverer-General checking up on what municipalities are trying to do and how well they are fulfilling their commitments.

  6. LittleBobPete LittleBobPete 30 July 2012

    @ Dave Harris climbs on his high horse again.
    Sorry for you Davey Boy but criticism of Government is in no way constructive in a democracy. Ask Mitt Romney if he’s being positive in his criticism.
    Criticism may well be positive if cash had been spent, but maybe spent in bad areas. But when cash has been squandered, stolen and plundered in a country like ours where our needs are so extreme, then the opposition HAS to be critical. You cannot waste BILLIONS of Rands and expect positive criticism, thats how todays parents don’t want their children dropped from the B Team as it may hurt their feelings. Get real. Performance of the nature of our Municipalities requires extreme and CRITICAL criticism. Embarress them into either resigning or doing a better job, or fire their arses.

  7. Harris Dave (cc.) dot com* Harris Dave (cc.) dot com* 30 July 2012

    (ref: * dotty communist)

    My brother is so right when he says “great strides made in delivering the basics to the masses since our liberation.”

    * Bad service is basic – except for the government who give nothing.

    * The same basic promises re housing, employment, education, healthcare etc. are delivered before every election

    * ANC officials say ‘basically’ at least twice in every sentence.

    * Basically all one needs is food, water and shelter. ANC officials have all that (besides much more). Suck up to them to be awarded a basic illegal tender. Otherwise, have fun with a liberated ‘protest’ – loot, burn buildings, throw rubbish, disrupt traffic, etc. so that you can deliver a memorandum.

    * Athough you can’t afford to buy a house or pay for basic services and have no basic skills to get a job) you expect the government to deliver it all to you for nothing. (while you go on delivering babies which you can’t afford either).

    * Delivering your own electricity from what you have stolen, is innovative. But you don’t really need it anyway. It puts a strain on our resources – and it’s much more romantic when its dark; and if your shack burns down, the government will deliver a message to the SABC, so that they can appeal to the private sector to supply basic temporary needs, like food and blankets

    * But most basic of all: if anyone gets caught, or the ANC doesn’t deliver, blame it on apartheid.

  8. Gavin Storrie Gavin Storrie 30 July 2012

    With his blind loyalty to the ANC and his obsessive hatred of whites and the DA Harris has missed the irony of WSM’s reference to “small amounts of money”. Of all people Harris should know how prejudice affects judgment. This time it’s Harris’s prejudice making him appear really stupid.

  9. Graham Graham 30 July 2012

    Bottom line – Municipalities are not run by competant people.
    Audit reports should NEVER be qualified.

    Unfortunately as it stands, everyone ignores the reports and hope the questions go away… oh who am I kidding, no-one asks questions… that would indicate accountability.

    At the moment we have failings in service delivery, but we cannot analyse the financials to see where these failings occur, because this data is wrong.

  10. Mari Mari 30 July 2012

    @ Dave Harris

    A municipality can receive an unqualified financial audit without delivering a single service. Compliance is about HOW you report not so much WHAT you report.

  11. Charlotte Charlotte 31 July 2012

    The blemish recorded against the DA by the Auditor General, is highlighted by contrast between them and the ANC – aptly described as a ‘morass of corruption and incompetence’.

    The DA is effectively now what the ANC was meant to be; the party that Nelson Mandela visualised and gave his life for. What a pity that he does not, or is now not able, to speak out against the ‘morass of corruption and incompetence’ into which the present ANC has degenerated.
    (The text book debacle is yet another feather in the ANC’s dunce-cap, used primarily to indicate that they’re only there to feather their own nests).

    The DA offers an honest, workable opportunity for every citizen – no matter what their colour, gender or age. Like the leaders of the party itself, and based on one’s training, expertise and experience, one is rewarded accordingly for doing the work required properly and for a job well done.

  12. ConCision ConCision 1 August 2012

    Fools Paradise
    Who’s more foolish –
    The fool or the fool who follows him?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Only fools vote for fools
    Who can’t do the job
    And don’t have the tools
    And break all the rules
    And mess up the schools
    And hoodwink the poor
    Who are needed as fuel
    For ANC voting renewal

    Only fools vote for fools
    Who can’t swim – yet want pools
    And mansions, cars and jewels
    And think corruption is cool

    Only fools vote for fools
    Who fake being kind
    But are cruel

  13. Lenny Appadoo Lenny Appadoo 3 August 2012

    While the fictitious ANC revolution continues, I feel the makings of a real revolution are taking root with every corrupt act by government. Just a pity the thieves in power will have the means to flee and retrieve their ill-gotten gains in foreign bank accounts when the s**t hits the fan.

  14. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 4 August 2012


    There is a way around letting them escape with their stolen assets – we used it in the 1980s when people “fled apartheid” with containers of goods, but were actually fleeing their debts and creditors.

    It is the Insolvency Law which is very uniform in the whole Western World. You need only get judgement, and an insolvency order, followed by the appointment of a trustee, for the authority of the trustee to be recognised in every court in the west.

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