ACCA recently held their second annual Public Sector Dialogue at the Hyatt Regency in Rosebank. Attended by notable guests, the dialogue’s was based on ACCA’s most recent research and insights publication “Breaking Out – Public Audit’s new role in a post-crash world.” Facilitated by ACCA SA’s Acting Head, Karen Smal in addition to four expert panellists, the dialogue marked to discuss the significant points in the research from a South Africa standpoint. It also aimed to discuss the existing gaps between the perceptions and the reality of the role of the public audit.
The consequences of the 2008 the global financial crisis continues to ripple its after-effects through local markets. However, the crisis has incited renewed thought among public auditors. The “Break Out” report gathered views from public auditor generals, academics and policy advisers from Australia to Jamaica, Scotland and Bhutan. The report offers a collection of upbeat reflections regarding the public auditor’s role in delivering accountability, improving public services, strengthening scrutiny, improving public engagement and public service effectiveness. It also puts forward a number of recommendations regarding closer liaisons with all those concerned with scrutiny as well as public service.
During the course of the dialogue, expert panellists shed some light on the key points that were highlighted in the publication. Panellists included ACCA’s Head of Public Sector, Gillian Fawcett, Tsakani Ratsela (Deputy Auditor General of South Africa), Ashna Prithiraj (National Treasury) and Cashmore Muchaonyerwa (Director of the Public Sector Advisory, Grant Thornton). According to Gillian Fawcett, ACCA Head of Public Sector, public auditors need to intervene in situations earlier to prevent failures from escalating. A strong argument has been that it is only by doing this that complications can be nipped in the bud. Providing assurance earlier in the life cycle of a project can limit the impact of administrative failures, preventing them from spiralling into significant value for money failures. “Real time intervention is needed.” Fawcett went on to say that auditors often find themselves in situations where a follow-up audit is conducted roughly three to six years after the first yet nothing has been done despite sufficient time for change having elapse. In some instances, recommendations that were initially accepted would not have been implemented. Whatever the reason for this, auditors can and should do something about it. Auditors are required to ensure that recommendations are not only practical but achievable and should, without a doubt, hold the audited entity to account.
What is the auditor’s role? Is it enough for public auditors just to fulfil statutory obligations and submit audit reports to parliament? Does public audit need to go beyond its statutory obligations? Do public audit reports make government more efficient and provide better services to its citizens, and therefore make a difference in people’s everyday lives? Tsakani Ratsela, Deputy Auditor General of South Africa, reflected on a number of these questions. According to Ratsela, Supreme Audit Institutions need to rise above their call of duty and start questioning the adequacy of government policies. Supreme Audit Institutions are being called on to provide more information and become more accountable to the public.
“Auditors must go beyond a narrow mandate and contribute directly to improving public sector performance. There is an appetite for information from the legislative auditor as the key independent source of information about state finance. The opportunities are there: audit should be part of the dialogue on performance and accountability and legislative auditors to need to make themselves integral to it.”