Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, yesterday released municipal audit outcomes for the 2016/17 financial year. Makwetu revealed two worrying points: the first was that municipal irregular expenditure has increased by 75% to R28.4 billion (the highest since the AG started tracking the values); the second was that out of the country’s 257 municipalities, only 33 (13%) managed to receive a clean audit. In speaking on these outcomes, Makwetu lamented that the recommendations his office had made to improve accountability and internal controls had been largely ignored by the country’s municipalities. Yet, says Nadine Kater, General Manager of Accounting Technicians South Africa AT(SA), while it is commendable to follow those recommendations, doing only that could sadly prove to be ‘a reactive approach that may only solve the problem retrospectively. The proactive solution is to build the relevant skills base within the municipalities and address the issues through skills development programmes such as the AT(SA)’s Local Government Accounting Qualifications.
Between 2006 and 2013, AT(SA), an associate of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), worked closely with government to help realise the objective of creating a skilled and professional public service. By creating the first local government accounting qualification in the country, the hope was that it would help to address the skills shortage of entry-level financial skills at a municipal level. Unfortunately, after rolling out this qualification to 1 400 municipal officials, financial constraints of the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) meant that the programme could not afford to continue.
However, as an associate of SAICA, AT(SA) uses the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 (NDP) as a key driver of its strategic objectives. In heeding the NDP’s call to ‘make the public service and local government careers of choice,’ AT(SA) once again sought out funding from the LGSETA to roll out a specific qualification for those working in the financial offices at municipalities and, in 2017, AT(SA) was able to reintroduce the local government accounting qualifications back into the market.
Says Kater, ‘currently there are 700 new students and employees in municipalities studying the local government accounting qualifications nationally. However, as the AG’s latest report shows, this is not enough. To solve the dysfunction in our municipalities, South Africa needs to focus on building a skilled and professional public service from both the top and the bottom. At the top, recruitment and management should be based on experience and expertise, while at junior levels, the state needs to focus on producing the skills and expertise that will be necessary for future public service cohorts.’
What are the Local Government Accounting Qualifications?
The AG’s report outlines how vital strong internal controls are to ensure that municipalities’ deliver on their priorities in an effective, efficient and economical manner. ‘For this reason, the AT(SA) local government accounting qualifications have been customised to meet the unique needs of the local government sector, and thereby offer a formal qualification to municipal finance and accounting officials. The practical and competence-based assessment structure of the qualification was based on the functions that municipal officers perform on the job. The competency frameworks are aligned to the Municipal Finance Act and the Technical Competency Dictionary, and the training methodology is not an academic approach. Students are trained to DO the work – to be competent in their work functions – so that municipalities are able immediately to reap the benefits of their employees newly-acquired skills in their own environment,’ explains Kater.
AT(SA): ready to champion qualifications in all municipalities
As a direct measure to increase the skills base in finance departments in the local government environment, the AT(SA) local government accounting qualifications are being offered by accredited SAICA AT(SA)Training Providers in 30 municipalities nationally.
‘Our hope is that municipalities will make the local government accounting qualifications an entry level qualification requirement for municipal officials working in financial positions. Should this become the norm, citizens can look forward to improved local government performance, quality service delivery, clean audits and, ultimately, a local government sector that is on a positive path to achieving the visions of the NDP through sound financial and administrative management of taxpayers’ money,’ concludes Kater.