By Ciaran Ryan and Nicolaas van Wyk
It is with great sadness we learned of the passing of Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu on 11 November 2020 after a long battle with lung cancer.
Makwetu was due to leave the AG post at the end of this month, and it struck many of us as strange that Parliament was headhunting for a replacement. We had no idea he was suffering from such a serious and debilitating illness.
It was comforting to learn that his deputy Auditor-General, Tsakani Maluleke, was selected to replace him. They come from the same school and Maluleke will no doubt continue the arduous task of bringing accountability to our public sector.
Makwetu brought dignity, probity and ethics to office of the AG. He was one of the finest public servants we were blessed to have. He leaves huge boots to fill. We recently wrote about his achievements here.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was to shine a spotlight on our dysfunctional municipalities and state-owned companies (SOCs) and make recommendations for their financial recovery. In Emfuleni municipality, one of his staff conducting an audit was shot. He did the right thing in pulling the staff out. On some occasions, AG staff had to be escorted to their work by police for protection.
One can only imagine the pressures and interference his office was subjected to.
There is no question that the office of the AG has done outstanding work in holding public officials to account. His staff have been threatened, shot and harassed whenever they got too close to some of the criminals who infiltrated governmental structures. And yet the job of auditing those in charge of public funds continued, sometimes against incredible odds.
The AG’s office under Makwetu demonstrated itself to be scrupulously independent of government and it is vital that it continue to operate free of political hinderance.
The reports issued from the AG’s office seldom make for comforting reading. For example, through the AG we learned that just 18 of the country’s 257 municipalities received unqualified audits. We also learned from the AG that the 20 State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) accounted for R2,8 billion in material irregularities – most of this coming from Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).
Makwetu was a driving force behind the amendments to the Public Audit Act, giving the AG more powers to enforce compliance with its dictates.
The AG can now refer “material irregularities” to the police, the public protector and the special investigations unit, and recommend remedial action with timelines. If no action is taken by the stipulated date, the AG must take action itself and instruct the accounting officer at the public entity to quantify and recover the loss.
If that fails, the AG must issue a certificate of debt to the accounting officer or the relevant accounting authority. It then falls to the minister or other executive authority to recover the loss.
We learn from his bio on Wikipedia that Makwetu was born in Cape Town, graduating with a degree in Social Sciences from the University of Cape Town in 1989. After receiving a BCompt Honours degree from the University of Natal in 1997, he became a qualified chartered accountant. He worked with Nampak, Standard Bank, and completed his articles at Deloitte. He worked for Metropolitan Life and Liberty Life before joined the AG’s office in 2007.
He was always dignified, professional and warm. He ran one of the few state agencies that was completely above reproach. We thank him for that, and for the example he set both for the accounting and auditing professions, and indeed for the public sector as a whole.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and colleagues at the AG’s office.