S.Africa: Presidency under fire from SCOPA

The Presidency came under fire for failing to hold departmental officials to account for not doing their jobs when Scopa, rejected staff changes as an excuse for a qualified audit outcome.

Spending in the Presidency was in the spotlight last week when it was revealed that the “spousal office” had spent over R15m (more than double the year before) on President Jacob Zuma ’s extended family.

This matter was not under scrutiny, however, as the committee was considering the 2008-09 annual report of the Presidency, but it was revealed that in the year before he became president the Presidency spent R5m on his legal fees.

The grilling of Presidency staff led by Collins Chabane, minister in the presidency for evaluation and monitoring, is a precursor to the president himself facing MPs’ questions in the National Assembly later this afternoon.

Democratic Alliance MP Mark Steele asked the Presidency about the absence of audit evidence to support asset acquisitions of almost R10m.

Chief operating officer Jessie Duarte acknowledged that certain basic accounting principles had not been followed, resulting in assets not being entered into the register while “consumables” that did not belong in the asset register were.

She said mistakes were those of the previous chief financial officer and managers.

Scopa chairman Themba Godi demanded to know the names and designations of the officials and “what were the consequences for them?”

Chief financial officer Bahumi Matebisi tried to deflect the question, saying it had happened under the watch of the previous group of bureaucrats of the Presidency.

In other words, the remains of the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki .

Godi said that this was a screen for saying nothing had happened to the officials.

He insisted accountability was an “institutional” issue and not an individual one that could be avoided because people had since moved on.

He and other MPs demanded to know where these people were and whether they were still in the public service.

Duarte was forced to concede that no action had been taken against the officials concerned and that some were still in the department, albeit at a more junior level. She said that a private company had been contracted to get the Presidency’s asset register in order and to “retrain” the officials.

Godi was astonished and remarked that Duarte insisted that the officials were qualified to do the work but that outsiders had been hired to do their work.

MPs also wanted to know what the sharply increased R10m for legal fees constituted.

Duarte replied that R5m had been for Zuma’s legal fees while the rest was for litigation against the state where the presidency was cited as first respondent.

Duarte and Matebisi were unable to supply a breakdown of how the money was spent.

They were asked to supply Scopa with a breakdown of Zuma’s legal costs.

When Zuma faces the National Assembly this afternoon he will reply to questions about the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s contracts in Limpopo, his call for a national debate on morality, and the granting of presidential pardons.

Source: www.businessday.co.za, 20100324

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