The Transformative Impact of Information
Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu speaks at Good Governance Africa SADC Centre
Dr Alain Tschudin, 28 June 2017
Introduction and Opening Remarks
Members of the diplomatic corps, Auditor-General of the Republic of South Africa, Esteemed Panelists, Dignitaries and Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and Friends.
Welcome to the home of Good Governance Africa and to the community that we are striving to build around issues of core relevance to this country, to our neighbours and to our continent. The theme of exploration for today’s open conversation is entitled, “The transformative impact of information”. Judging by our jam-packed venue, we have arrived in anticipation of a stimulating debate. I would like to provide some introduction to our keynote speaker and distinguished panel before making some opening remarks and handing over the floor to him.
Thembekile Kimi Makwetu was born in Cape Town and completed a Social Sciences degree at the University of Cape Town in 1989. He received a BCompt Honours degree from the University of Natal (distance learning in 1997) and is a qualified chartered accountant and a member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA).
He started his career with Standard Bank and later worked at Nampak. He completed his articles at Deloitte where he progressed to senior management before joining Liberty and Metropolitan Life in Cape Town. He moved to Gauteng in 2003 where he worked at Liberty Life. Kimi returned to Deloitte as a director in the firm’s forensic unit before his appointment as Deputy Auditor-General at the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). Kimi is married and has three children.
On 1 December 2013, the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma, officially appointed Kimi as the new Auditor-General of South Africa for a period of seven years.
Susan Booysen is Professor at the Wits School of Governance (WSG), University of the Witwatersrand. She specialises in South and Southern African politics, with particular interest in public policy, governance and political contest. She is the author of Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma (2015) and The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power (2011). Her other books include the edited volumes FeesMustFall! Student Revolt, Decolonisation and Governance in South Africa (2016) and Local Elections in South Africa: Parties, people, politics (2012). She has also published a wide range of national and international journal articles. Susan is a past president of the South African Association of Political Studies and serves on the editorial board of the South African Journal of Political Studies, Politikon. She is a political analyst and consultant in research and writing, and holds a D.Litt. et Phil. from the University of Johannesburg.
Simphiwe Dzengwa was born and grew up in Zwelitsha, in the Eastern Cape. From an early age he was involved in various leadership positions in student, youth and community structures. This laid a solid foundation for his character and further engagements in his adult and professional life. Simphiwe started his junior degree and later obtained his MBA at Rhodes, graduated and did his honours degree at UWC and has an MPA degree from the Florida Atlantic University in USA. He has worked extensively in the area of government finances and management – and generally considers himself a developmental activist.
Simphiwe has extensive experience in government having worked with all the three spheres mainly in the areas of finance, policy development, capacity building, project management, monitoring and evaluation, research and innovation, and others. He has also worked in senior managerial roles within the private sector and has led various initiatives both nationally and internationally.
Nicki Gules is City Press’s assistant editor and head of news and investigations. She also describes herself as a bit of a local government nerd, and has a passion for matching residents’ lived experience with the numbers churned out by the office of the Auditor-General, so as to illustrate how clean or rotten audits directly impact on the lives of the people living in those municipalities.
Nicki has been a journalist since 1998 (after ill-fated careers in both music and teaching) and started as a reporter at the Sunday Times. She went on to be the newspaper’s Eastern Cape correspondent (where she came up close and personal with local government failures), Gauteng news editor and news editor of The Times. She joined City Press five years ago.
Mcebisi Ndletyana holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. He’s an Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Before joining UJ, Mcebisi held research positions at several institutions, including the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), Human Sciences Research Council and at the Centre for Policy Studies. He also taught at New York’s Marymount Manhattan College and the City University of New York.
Mcebisi has published three books, several book chapters and journal articles. His recent book is titled, “Institutionalising Democracy: The Story of the Electoral Commission of South Africa, 1993 – 2014” (HSRC Press, 2015). He is currently working on two books, looking at the 100-year history of Fort Hare University and the decline of the ANC in the Nelson Mandela Metro. He is a columnist for the Sunday Independent newspaper, contributes regularly to the Daily Dispatch and is also a prominent public commentator.
Wessel Lourens is an entrepreneur and starting member of 3 businesses, varying in different service offers. His original business, SOQ Solutions, in partnership with two industrial engineers, provides Business Optimisation solutions such as the design, building and implementation of Business Intelligence Solutions in various business sectors. He is an expert in the implementation of integrated ISO Solutions such as Quality, Environmental, Information Security and Enterprise Risk Management systems and specialises in Tableau, one of the top BI solutions globally. He is a partner in Visual Risk Manager, a software solutions company that specialises in developing and providing Governance, Compliance and Enterprise Risk Management Software to businesses in Africa and the MD of BureauSol, a business that provides outsourced call centre solutions to various industries.
After 13 years as a Forensic Investigator in the South African Police Services, Wessel worked as a risk manager in the transport industry for 4 years. This led to the telemetry industry where he was the Ctrack National Operations Manager for 12 years, initiating a business unit there that specifically provided BI and reporting solutions to customers globally. Wessel is currently completing his B.Comm with a specialisation in Strategic Supply Chain Management at UNISA. His team has helped take our capacity to have a transformative impact through information to the next level, but more on that later.
A warm thank you to all of you for taking time out to be here for what promises to be a cracking discussion on a topic of critical relevance. Now, for some opening remarks.
The word transformation refers to a marked change in form, nature or appearance. Within the South African context, it has come to refer to redress for historical discrimination that often focuses its master narrative on affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment. Regrettably, this is often reduced to superficial number crunching and window-dressing. The meaning upon which I would encourage us to focus today is somewhat broader and deeper than its abbreviated equivalent. In short, it refers to a change in life quality that transcends the numbers; of learners pushed through the educational system, of Rands received by recipients of the lowest Living Standards Measures and of mega-Watts of power provided to those who cannot afford to use it optimally.
Our reading of transformation of course includes the above, but it goes further to reassert the dignity of the human person, of persons and of their communities. It celebrates innovation, whether by government, the private sector or civil society and seeks to transmit and assess the impact of knowledge and, in this case, information on the citizens of the world out there. A good example of this sea change was the transformation of the Old Fort, down the road, a site of suffering, torture and human rights violations from the Anglo-Boer war to apartheid, to become the seat of the Constitutional Court of the new democracy.
The court serves not only to provide the physical bricks upon which the new society is constructed, but it also supplies the spiritual building blocks upon which our nation-state is founded. Without the Constitution, however, the court building would be as empty and meaningless as – or perhaps even more perverse than – its predecessor.
John Adams, second president of the United States, signatory to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, commented in 1798, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Human passions unbridled by morality. At a time in our own fledgling democracy when human passions appear to be running amok, they appear to be contained and constrained only by the Constitution. It is therefore notable that the venerable office of the Auditor-General is instituted under Chapter 9 of the Constitution, and is one of 6 state institutions dedicated to strengthening constitutional democracy in the Republic (others include the Public Protector, the SA Human Rights Commission, The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, Commission for Gender Equality and Electoral Commission).
Article 181 informs us that these institutions are independent, subject only to the Constitution and the law, impartial and must exercise their powers without fear, favour or prejudice. It further confirms that they must be supported and protected by other organs of state and not interfered with, maintaining their accountability by reporting to the National Assembly at least once a year.
Mr Auditor-General, we recognise the sparkling job that your institution continues to roll out, despite the challenges faced not only to Article 181 but to entire Chapter 9 institutions. Dr Ivor Sarakinsky of the Wits School of Governance recently referred to institutions such as the Office of the Public Protector, your own office and that of National Treasury as world-renowned shining lights of good governance. Given concerted efforts to interfere with and erode such offices, we salute your resilience and commitment to the weight of office that you and your team bear. It can’t be easy to continue to shine a spotlight for those who appear to be blinded by its light.
Speaking of the light, we are each privileged to have a copy of the Consolidated General Report on the Local Government Audit Outcomes, MFMA 2015-2016 with the GGA dossier. In it, the AG makes clear that the intention of this document is to empower oversight structures and executive leadership to bootstrap financial management, encourage transparency on service delivery and promote compliance.
The report notes that accountability lies at the heart of municipal leadership, and as it is a cardinal governance virtue, we can only concur.
Let us return to our theme, “The transformative impact of information”. It is clearly not information itself, neither numbers nor words in their own right that are transformative; it is the significance that is attached to them, the way in which they are interpreted, analysed and shared. It is the attempt that is made to disrupt the status quo, to move from the obsolete and malfunctional to the adaptive and cutting edge, to transcend the digital divide and establish a society of peace and prosperity for all, as envisaged by Oliver Tambo many moons ago.
With this same positive spirit in mind, I would now like to invite the AG, Mr Kimi Mawetu to take the floor and share some pearls of wisdom with us. I thank you.
I often test the temperature of our democracy’s waters in dialogue with strangers who represent the people, Jane or Joe Bloggs. My long-suffering colleagues have heard me refer to the Uber diaries over the last 2 years. Yesterday was no exception.
After the usual niceties, I asked my driver, from KwaDukuza on KZN’s North Coast, “What do you think about the AG?” “That guy, I can’t complain about him. Those auditors are doing a good job.” I probe further, “Do you know that they released a report on municipal finances last week?” “Yes, I’ve read the report”. “Interesting”, I think. Much head shaking. “What’s wrong?”, I ask. “Our country is sinking”, he says. “Why’s that?” I ask. “The structures (sigh)…they need to be overhauled…they’re failing us.” “What structures?” “Parliament”. “But the AG answers to Parliament.” “He should answer to the people.” “But parliament is supposed to represent the people”. “Supposed to…well it doesn’t. Just those in power.”
This honest assessment, by an unsuspecting layperson, lays bare the conundrum that Chapter 9 Institutions, and the office of the AG in particular, face. They are mandated to strengthen constitutional democracy. They carry out their jobs with precision and make critical information available to parliament and to the people. Yet the political will by those in power to embrace the reality that is exposed and to engage it in a positive and transformational manner often appears to be sadly lacking.
Unless there are punitive consequences for those public servants and their delegates who fail their constituents, and for accounting officers in particular, there is no hope. In fact, I think the AG recently described the situation aptly as, “Wrestling with a pig in the mud.” And pigs in the mud are not happy, contrary to popular belief. Science, in fact, tells us that they are trying to rid themselves of parasites.
Above and beyond the particularities of the MFMA, we have been privileged to enjoy stimulating engagements from the world of local governance care of Simphiwe Dzengwa and SALGA, from the world of media and applied news thanks to Nicki Gules of City Press and from our academic specialists on the panel, Professors Booysen and Ndletyana, both as applied to local governance and political science.
We have also seen how information can be transformative from a Business Intelligence – Business Solution for an NPO such as ourselves, as skillfully demonstrated by Wessel Lourens of SOQ with respect to the digitisation of our Africa Survey and via some insights into our online procurement database. There is no doubt that information can have a profoundly transformative impact on society. Whether it does appears to be another issue that relates strongly to will and to governance, in particular to accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
In closing, Martin Luther King Jr suggested that “The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood” (and might we add sisterhood). I could not think of a quote more befitting to describe the work of the AG’s office. May you continue to shine. Thank you, sir. Thank you also to our excellent panelists and audience, and finally to our team for a wonderful job. Please join us for refreshments and snacks in the open area.