n Journal of Public Administration - Revitalising the role of the Auditor-General under the auspices of The Public Audit Amendment Act 5 of 2018 : a quest for public financial accountability

Volume 54 Number 4
  • ISSN : 0036-0767


Literature on democratic accountability is surging. In recent times, an uncontrollable urge for public financial accountability has been featuring in high-level policy reform debates within and across countries. The early democratisation of the public administration system signalled a complete transformation across all public institutions and state entities. The view, or rather intention, was to achieve the best practices, norms and standards of modern and contemporary democracies. It has to be against this context that the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 deemed it necessary to establish the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG). The OAG's key responsibility is to facilitate and navigate the path of efficient public financial management and accountability. The OAG achieves this through routine auditing of all public institutions and entities. The functions of the OAG are succinctly spelt out in section 188 of the Constitution. The Public Audit Act, 2004 (Act 25 of 2004) is meant to provide further enumerations in addition to the constitutional provisions. The Act delineates the institutional structure, functions and powers of the OAG. Moreover, this Act is applied conjunctly with the Public Finance Management Act, 1999 (Act 1 of 1999) and the Municipal Finance Management Act, 2003 (56 of 2003). However, despite all these legislative efforts, recent local government audit outcomes (2017/18) reflect poor financial performance and pervasive trends of wasteful expenditure.

The regressions are due to a lack of public financial accountability safeguards and policy incoherencies in the current regulatory framework. For instance, the OAG had been deprived of significant enforcement powers enabling it to perform its institutional mandate effectively. It had been portrayed as a 'toothless dog' because it could not enforce compliance with its recommendations against the errant accounting officers. Owing to this, a need for a review of the legal framework governing the OAG's powers became apparent and this culminated in the promulgation of the Public Audit Amendment Act, 2018 (Act 5 of 2018). This amendment brings hope for public financial accountability, for it expands the powers of the OAG. This article analyses the extended powers that the Public Audit Amendment Act affords the OAG in order to answer the question whether the OAG is now better placed to facilitate public financial accountability or not.

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