LOL (Laugh out loud)

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Party political press releases are usually dour affairs packed with propaganda. My thanks to the Democratic Alliance for enlivening an afternoon this week with a bit of humour lamenting the fact that our auditors cannot count – or audit for that matter.

DA shadow finance minister Dr Dion George is annoyed that the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors (IRBA) – nogal – has incurred R11.4 million in irregular expenditure in the financial year to March 31.

 

Thundering that this “is an indictment of a government body created to police auditors”, which it is, George avers it is also “the equivalent of a lifeguard not being able to swim.”

 

Getting into the swing of simile, George adds the failure “is like the Competition Commission being found guilty of price fixing”.

 

More seriously though, he notes it calls into question whether the regulator can even fulfill on the most basic of mandates and raises the question what else IRBA is defaulting on.

 

“The total expenditure for the IRBA in 2009 was R56.6 million – which means that the irregular expenditure made up 20% of the total; a very large and notable proportion indeed.”

 

The irregular expenditure comprise of the following:

  • Not obtaining valid tax clearance certificates: R 3.4 million

  • Orders or contracts not pre-authorised: R 0.4 million

  • Procurement without obtaining three quotations: R 7.6 million

 

Other problems flagged by the AG are:

  • Difficulties concerning delays or the availability of requested information,

  • The financial statements were subject to material amendments resulting from the audit, and

  • Deficiencies in the design and implementation of internal control in respect of compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

 

“The sum total of these failures provides a clear cut case of not practicing what you preach against the IRBA. What kind of message is the IRBA sending to the auditors which it is supposed to police,” George asks.

 

I have previously blasted auditors for what I believe was their role in the current global financial crisis and frankly this appaling state of affairs at the IRBA does nothing to improve my opinion of the profession.

 

Humour aside, the state of state finances need urgent attention.

 

Auditor-General Terence Nombembe yesterday told Parliament he had given 16 government departments and entities “disclaimers of opinion”, for the financial year ended March, which meant he could not obtain adequate supporting documentation for their financial statements.

Five more departments and entities received adverse opinions, which meant their financial statements were fundamentally incorrect.

Half the departments reported performance information not in compliance with regulatory requirements, while the performance information for 40% of the departments “was not meaningful”, he told an irate meeting of heads of Parliamentary portfolio committees.

A poster child for the latter could well be the Gauteng health department.

That department boasts the dubious distinction of not being able to prove whether it paid staff salaries of R7.1 billion – or rather to whom the salaries went. In addition Nombembe said the department engaged in authorised spending of over R1 billion – a not inconsiderable amount (Rooivalk has cost R8 billion to date, and Project Hoefyster has a similar budget but over ten years). In terms of “small change” the department also indulged in “irregular” spending of R1.9 million, and “fruitless and wasteful” spending of R2.2 million.

Underspending on the HIV/Aids amounted to R68 million and R35 million budgeted for hospital upgrades were not spent.

It is not clear how this type of gross mismanagement can happen in the SA public service ten years after the adoption of the Public Finance Management Act, enacted expressly to prevent this type of criminality. Had this department been a JSE-listed company, the directors would have been in the dock for fraud.

It is encouraging to see in today’s Business Day newspaper that health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is promising charges against those implicated. About time!

 

Humour is contagious

 

George is not the only DA MP deploying humour as a weapon. Also doing so is police colleague Dianne Kohler Barnard. Her beef yesterday was that police minister Nathi Mthetwa spent R235 000 staying at a luxury five-star hotel while his official residence was being refurbished.

 

Kohler Barnard noted Mthetwa the Minister has now instructed his office to draft a policy to prevent “unnecessary expenditure” in the future.

 

Says the MP: “We welcome this initiative on the Minister’s part, but it would amiss not to point out the gross hypocrisy implicit in it. To instruct his department to draft a memo on its unnecessary expenditure, indeed, to “conduct a full investigation” into his stay at the hotel, is a bit like Caligula telling the Romans to be more frugal.

 

“What the Minister really needs to interrogate is his own attitude toward public money.”

 

This largesse is in addition to a R40.5 million spending spree on new official vehicles for ministers that assumed office in May. Mthetwa’s deputy, Fikile Mbalula, is the latest the DA has found shopping for new vehicles at a time of recession, job loss and lower state tax income. The recession has so far cost 500 000 people their employment and has substantially boosted an already high unemployment rate. Indications are that the state will miss its revenue target by at least R70 billion this year.

 

Thus, with local elections just over two years away, it may be a courageous Mbalula that spent R1.6-million on two new ministerial vehicles, including R83 879 on extras such as ceramic surround controls, an “off road package”, media interface and a multi-contour seat package.

 

Kohler Barnard says it is “quite absurd for … Mthetwa, to claim that Mbalula’s previous vehicle – a 2006 model Mercedes Benz E350 – needed to be replaced because its high mileage constitutes a “security risk”.

 

“If the ANC (African National Congress) thinks that a three year old car is a security risk, its members have clearly entirely lost touch with reality,” she says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crooked comrades

 

The DA also launched a “Crooked Comrades Monitor” this week. The party says the monitor will be an “online archive of those people aligned to the ANC appointed either as public representatives or who occupy key positions in the public service, and who have dubious track records which suggest that they are unsuited for public office.”

 

At launch the document included 16 people, including Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans chairman Mnyamezeli Booi.

 

Whether this will serve any purpose only time will tell.

 

Lastly, for those who enjoy sarcasm, here is another missive from Kohler Barnard:

 

 

STATEMENT BY HER GRACE DR DIANNE KOHLER BARNARD MP, PHD, MD

DA EXECUTIVE SHADOW MINISTER OF POLICE

9 OCTOBER 2009

 

If titles equal respect then Julius Malema needs the world’s longest title

Release: immediate

In these difficult times good news is hard to come by. And so the Democratic Alliance is overjoyed that the Police ‘Service’, in an ingenious move to end crime, is changing its name to Police ‘Force’. This initiative alone will, no doubt, have a powerful effect. We have already seen the dramatic impact that the change from the ‘Department of Safety and Security’ to the ‘Department of Police’ has had on crime. These things strike fear into the hearts of criminals. The more name changes, the better.

Cleverer still, is the idea to change the title of ranking officers, from silly names like ‘Commissioner’ to awe-inspiring designations like ‘General’, which will “command more respect” to quote Deputy National Commissioner Hamilton Hlela.

We couldn’t agree more.

This kind of brilliant logic is sorely lacking in South African politics. The powerful connection between one’s title and the respect afforded to the requisite person is well documented. Indeed, one need look no further than that universally acclaimed democrat, Idi Amin, for evidence to this effect. His humble title – “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” – was the very difference between him being written-off as an abomination and the huge respect he now garners the world over.

The question is, why have the police taken so long to cotton on? More to the point, what about all the other people in the ANC who are in desperate need of more respect? Julius Malema for example. The poor man needs all the help he can get.

We would like to propose that his title be changed from ‘President of the ANC Youth League’ to ‘Lord High Chancellor of Youth’ (even Darth Vadar had to report to the Lord High Chancellor). We think this will make a big difference.

Also, former Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (now a lowly Member of Parliament); we think her title should be changed to ‘Grand Wizard’ – a suitable allusion to her ability to mix potions from beetroot and garlic.

President Jacob Zuma (Emperor Zuma?) needs to get onto this issue right away.

By some bizarre chance, should all these changes not engender the appropriate respect, we can only suggest that the problem might actually lie with the behaviour and conduct of those individuals, as opposed to their titles. No doubt this is completely wrong, but on the off-chance that there is something to it, might we further suggest that staying in five star hotels, spending R1.6 million on luxury cars, being charged and brought before the court on corruption charges, not releasing crime statistics, arguing crime is not a crisis and failing to prepare for committee meetings, also has something to do with the problem? What exactly, we cannot say.

But that’s all by-the-by. In the meantime, the police leadership should concentrate all its energy on titles and getting names right. That’s what the average South African really needs, wants and expects from the Police Service. I mean Force.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES:

Dianne Kohler Barnard MP (and honourary Professor) – 082 823 7047