Speech by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to the Auditor’s General International Congress, 22 November 2010.
Excellencies High Commissioners and Ambassadors
Ladies and gentlemen
On behalf of President Jacob Zuma, his government and the people of our country, let me extend warm South African greetings and an official welcome to all who are here tonight. To those who are visiting for the first time: please enjoy our world-renowned ubuntu, which is our unique spirit of hospitality. We believe that the ubuntu of our rainbow nation will create many pleasant memories for you to take back home when the congress is over.
Today is an important and historic day for our beloved country, and indeed our continent. It is an exciting day because merely 16 years ago, few people would believe that South Africa would (so soon after successfully hosting a spectacular Soccer World Cup, play host to a conference of the world’s second largest organisation after the United Nations - the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). These are no small achievements, but a big boost for our fast developing democracy and Africa as a whole.
The most exciting part of South Africa’s development journey after years of apartheid, is that the world has warmly embraced us and drawn us back into its fold, supporting our every developmental step – this is evident from your being here tonight. We are convinced that cooperation between our country, our continent and the international community can only go even further in improving the lives of our peoples.
South Africa has indeed made big strides in various areas in the past 16 years, one of which is developing effective auditing and reporting standards. The latest Global Competitiveness Report ranks South Africa first when it comes to auditing and reporting standards.
Furthermore, amongst 94 countries in the international Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Survey, South Africa was also ranked first. This survey assesses the degree to which governments provide sufficient budget allocation to allow for public participation, understanding and oversight in national budget decision-making.
These achievements are of huge significance for this country and our continent. To us in government it shows that, although we are still a developing country that is grappling with various socio-economic issues, as a nation we take issues of proper governance seriously and we have systems in place that are aimed at ensuring that governance steps are followed to the letter as we strive towards consolidating our democracy.
I must hasten to say that the fact that governance systems are in place, and that our auditing and reporting standards are acknowledged globally, should not be an end in itself but an encouragement to continue to do more towards further improved and good governance.
To this end, the importance of Supreme Audit Institutions is critical. You as Supreme Audit Institutions play a significant role in ensuring that public funds are spent in a manner that will improve the lives of our peoples. You enable those charged with governance and those charged with oversight to fulfill their functions more effectively by providing information and insight. By helping citizens to understand your work, you enable them, in turn, to ask their political representatives crucial and pertinent questions on whether their tax monies are spent properly.
Your role as Supreme Audit Institutions and our role as those exercising political oversight over the public administration are inter-dependent. The independence that you enjoy points towards a transparent public service that can be trusted by its citizens. Our young democracy in South Africa regards this as so important that we have enshrined this arrangement in our Constitution.
I understand that these and other important auditing issues will take centre stage as you deliberate and formulate standards that will reinforce your profession. We as governments, and indeed, the citizens and taxpayers of the world and the countries you represent, will surely benefit from the outcomes of your week-long deliberations.
In the South African context, for example, we as government are already benefiting from the positive working relationship we have with the office of the Auditor-General under the leadership of Mr. Terence Nombembe. In addition to the high activism that our Parliament has on the audit insights provided, the Auditor-General has been working closely with us, as auditees, to highlight root causes or areas that could result in negative audit outcomes. This has resulted in many of us in government getting closely involved and providing much-needed oversight in our different portfolios as we embark collectively towards achieving clean audit reports through clean administration.
Mr. Nombembe has furthermore shown, through action, that the auditee-auditor relationship does not have to be antagonistic; that when auditors are coming to do their work, auditees need not close their doors or run to the nearest woods to hide.
He has shown that, while the auditors need always to keep to their professional standards, thereby ensuring their independence when doing their audits, they can also add value by playing a developmental role that ensures that auditees are aware of root causes and deal with these before they result in negative findings.
Our Auditor-General is not a by-stander, but a partner, dirtying his hands with us, to work with government to achieve its key priorities of creating decent jobs, providing for the health and educational needs of our people, combating crime and corruption, and promoting rural development and accelerated land reform.
As auditees, on the other hand, we also need to play our part in ensuring that systems and controls are in place and there is constant oversight that will ensure that the work of the Supreme Audit Institution is not in vain. For me, audit insights that focus on the root causes rather than just symptoms is one of the many important roles and benefits of the Supreme Audit Institutions.
The work you do is also critical to helping us advance the development of our continent, Africa. Our African Peer Review Mechanism (i.e. the APRM), to which more than half of countries on our continent have acceded, is premised on the need to strengthen our governance institutions and the accountability of our leaders, including putting in place measures for effective auditing and reporting standards. Countries that are part of the APRM, including South Africa, are peer reviewed on regular basis and advised on how best to address weaknesses and shortcoming in their governance systems. The APRM is to this day a unique inter-state mechanism for self-assessment by member countries.
Your programme over the next week is full, exciting and touches on critical issues of world importance. My interest was particularly drawn by your discussions on environmental issues and the anticipated Report on the Coordinated International Audit on Climate Change. I am sure the world is eagerly awaiting your resolutions and findings on this front.
Although there are still many and varying schools of thought on this issue, it is a topic and matter of importance the world cannot ignore. Your input will be invaluable to us as we prepare for COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, next month, and the COP17 which will be held here in South Africa next year.
We need to debate environmental issues and find workable solutions that will ensure that our future generations are not disadvantaged. I am glad your congress is also putting its professional weight behind sustainable development and joining other leading thinkers in this debate.
We trust that your recommendations and the resultant accords on this and other critical issues that you will be discussing will benefit the generations to come.
I am encouraged that in your deliberations you will not lose sight of the context within which men and women of your profession do their work today. The economic crisis that many countries in the world are still grappling with as we speak, has brought to the surface the need to transform how the international system operates, including the International Financial Institutions and Transnational Corporations. The collapse of companies and financial institutions that were once held in high esteem is a serious challenge to our economies and the global system of auditing and reporting standards.
I am sure you have been following very closely the efforts of the G20 in this regard, as well as measures that have since been set in motion at the global level to address challenges that border on the work of your profession.
Programme Director, Distinguished Delegates
Let me end by once again welcoming you, and express our appreciation for having chosen our country as a venue for your important Congress. I believe that your host, our Auditor-General, has taken all the necessary measures to make your visit to our country a memorable one - to give you the true taste of South African hospitality!
I thank you and wish your deliberations a success.