To influence a culture shift in the public sector, we must maintain meaningful relationships with our strategic partners in the accountability ecosystem. Our interactions cover a range of topics that focus on driving change towards a culture of performance, accountability, transparency and integrity.
During our engagements over the past few years, we have actively promoted the need for all roleplayers in the public sector to diligently discharge their responsibilities to ensure maximum positive impact on the success of our country and on the lives of the people of South Africa. We called the network of stakeholders an accountability ecosystem. These stakeholders have a mandate or responsibility (whether legislative or moral) to drive, deepen and insist on public sector accountability, and form an ecosystem due to their mutually reinforcing connections. We encourage our accountability ecosystem roleplayers to work together with an awareness of how their respective roles influence both the roles of others within the ecosystem and the ecosystem at large.
To fully develop and understand the accountability ecosystem concept and the various connections, roles and responsibilities we undertook wide-ranging research and consultation. The knowledge and understanding gained was captured in a position paper to generate a common understanding of the accountability ecosystem within the AGSA. The paper not only sets out the various roleplayers, their mandates and envisaged roles in shifting the public sector culture, but also supplements the philosophy of the accountability ecosystem with the enabling behaviour required for the system to function optimally.
The next step in the process is to set up a task team to develop an accountability ecosystem framework, which will allow for structured engagement with and among the roleplayers, as well as reporting on the overall performance of the system.
Our stakeholder engagements remained focused on driving impact and change in line with our strategy. The engagements were planned carefully and in a systematic way, considering up-to-date environmental insights, platform selections and targeted key messages for each stakeholder.
Overall, we engaged with constitutional stakeholders to give them an understanding of the audit outcomes, the key failures that lead to disappointing outcomes and material irregularities, and the areas that need to improve. Another important objective of these interactions is to obtain commitments to drive improvements. We undertook 681 tailored engagements (130%) against the annual target of 524.
To achieve the required culture shift, we must maintain meaningful relationships with our strategic partners in the accountability ecosystem. Such relationships are governed through a memorandum of understanding or agreement. Our interaction with those partners is a direct way to share our insight and the aspirations of the #cultureshift2030 strategy. One of these key aspirations is to foster a culture that encourages competence, in which officials know their work.
National School of Government
Our relationship enables us to influence this agenda by collaborating on matters of professionalising the public sector (as stated in the government’s National Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Sector), including its various training and induction programmes.
South African Association of Public Accounts Committees
Through our relationship, we are part of the planning team for the 2023 Southern Africa Development Community Organisation of Public Accounts Committees annual conference, annual general meeting and 20th anniversary celebrations to be held in Durban in October 2023.
South African Local Government Association
We continue to work on governance training programmes and share insight in webinars. Our participation in the Salga coordinated platforms led to the successful induction of all new councillors, and customised capacity-building initiatives for MPACs as part of phase II of the councillor induction programme. At year end, only three provinces, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape completed this leg of the capacity-building programme.
This is one of the key standard setters for financial reporting frameworks and a custodian of the national, provincial and local government financial management legislation. Within the National Treasury we regularly interacted with the Office of the Accountant-General, the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer and the National Treasury Internal Audit Support.
Our goal in engaging with these offices is to resolve contentious technical issues arising from our audits. These discussions aid in improving the consistency of responses as well as the manner in which auditors and auditees apply these resolutions. We also contribute to and comment on standards, templates, procurement prescripts, guidelines, and other technical documents.
Department of Performance Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME)
After the closeout of the performance information task team in November 2021, we continued with bilateral meetings with DPME. The objectives are to deliberate on performance management, reporting and auditing issues identified and to influence DPME in their coordinating and oversight role over strategic and annual plans of government.
This year, we shared insight and gaps identified in relation to the completeness of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework outcomes versus key indicators included in plans for key sector departments and their impact on actual service delivery. We also shared insight, findings and challenges identified at national and provincial departments in their preparation of draft annual performance plans for 2023-24.
To ensure a seamless stakeholder engagement experience for the AGSA when Cabinet was reshuffled, profiles of the new ministers and deputy ministers were produced to assist in planning the best way to land their key messages. Our observation reports provided detailed feedback on stakeholders’ reception of our messages, their concerns and advice for improvements for future interactions.
We continued to enable oversight during the 2022 budget review and recommendation reports (BRRR) engagements by sharing the audit outcomes and providing rich insights to drive understanding and action. From the BRRR engagements, we observed that our investment in enhancing the capabilities of portfolio committees and committee support staff is yielding positive results.
Accounting Standards Board
The board is responsible for developing and maintaining the Standards of Generally Recognised Accounting Practice (GRAP) and advancing financial reporting in the public sector.
Our engagements provide insight on implementing auditing and accounting considerations when setting the GRAP standards. Our key priorities for this year was to provide input on formulating new standards and reviewing existing standards, with a focus on matters that have led to disputes and legal actions in the past.
Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors
Our objective in engaging is to facilitate public sector audit insight in developing standards and guidance for auditors. We participate in its quarterly meetings of the Committee for Audit Standards, steering committee and subcommittees, which include the Public Sector Standing Committee, Regulated Industries and Reporting Standing Committee and Sustainability Standing Committee.
We held ISQM benchmarking engagements, and gathered information on all relevant and innovative solutions and proactive quality support. We also found that auditees often sought second opinions from audit firms on matters already covered by our audit opinions.
Before delivering a second opinion, the IESBA, Saica, and IRBA code of ethics requires firms to communicate with the auditor (AGSA). The firms who provided second opinions on a majority of the conflicts did not comply with this code requirement. We raised this issue before the IRBA Public Sector Standing Committee, which resolved to address this matter through a project proposal to the IRBA ethics committee.
Formal trilateral meetings
The formal trilateral meeting is between the AGSA, the National Treasury and the chief executive officer of the ASB. The objective is to strategically collaborate to improve financial reporting, accountability systems and transparency, and to give direction to technical specialists.
Engagements this year focused on sharing our strategy to locate our partners in the accountability ecosystem, and we shared our dispute resolution mechanism.
Professional bodies and associations
Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa (IIASA) – Public Sector Committee (PSC)
Regular engagements were held with the IIASA PSC to support capacity-building initiatives for internal auditors in the public sector. Key insights on using the work of internal audit were shared, and the outcomes of the discussions were used to identify areas for practical application guidance for the AGSA auditors. A key outcome for this reporting period is the guide on communication opportunities between internal and external audit which was issued in response to work done with the IIASA PSC.
Public Sector Audit Committee Forum (PSACF)
The AGSA is a founding member of the PSACF together with the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA), IIASA, Saica, Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA), National Treasury and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). The PSACF is involved in capacity-building initiatives for audit committee members in the public sector.
We participated in the PSACF by sharing our insights in the areas of internal audit and audit committees. We also supported the PSACF with a number of initiatives to improve the effectiveness of audit committees.
A key outcome of the work that we did during this year was sharing the key themes on internal audit and audit committee from the Zondo Commission on State Capture to influence relevant guidance paper topics in the coming year.
Improve our stakeholders’ sentiment about our contribution to the accountability culture in the public sector
Seeking feedback from stakeholders is an important activity for a supreme audit institution. During the reporting period we were able to reflect on the timing of a survey given the stage of execution of our strategy and the upcoming general elections. We considered the areas that require feedback from stakeholders and the possible questions to be posed to the various groups of stakeholders. In search of a completely independent survey of stakeholder views, we have appointed a service provider who is designing the survey, and will execute and publish the results in 2023-24.
Non-constitutional stakeholder engagements
Recognising the importance of engaging the entire spectrum of roleplayers in the accountability ecosystem, we put a lot of effort into professionalising and standardising our engagements with non-constitutional stakeholders. These stakeholders have been identified over the years as integral partners to improving public sector accountability. Consistent messages aim to increase their awareness of our work and how it translates into improvements in the lived experiences of people.
All public engagements profiled the #cultureshift2030 strategy, calling on stakeholders to join us in influencing a public sector culture shift that improves accountability and uses public resources efficiently, while strengthening the reputation of the accountancy and auditing profession.
Use of media and social media to promote the public sector culture shift
We have continued to receive balanced and prominent media coverage from both earned and associative media mentions. The highlight of this trend was when Daily Maverick – an authoritative and much-read thought shaper on good governance – voted the AGSA the South African Institute of the Year.
In its citation on why its readers – who are mainly influential thought leaders, professionals and experts in various fields – voted for the national audit office, the news agency notes in part that “It [AGSA] has increasingly flexed its accountability muscle and got accounting officers to toe the line of good governance.”
It is encouraging that news agencies are embedding the culture shift tone and terminology in their reporting, a seed that is continuously and strategically infused in all externally-bound AGSA messages such as media statements or responses. Independent social media analysis further indicates that the organisation continued to receive positive reportage during the release of our flagship audit reports such as the provincial and national, and local government, general reports. We used our selected media platforms as conduits to help influence a public sector culture shift towards wholesale good governance.
After releasing the general reports, interviews were given to mainstream and regional media agencies. We continued to enlighten journalists about our culture shift strategy and the importance of activating the roleplayers in the accountability ecosystem.
We also drive messages about our extended mandate. In partnership with the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), we hosted a workshop for more than 20 Western Cape journalists on how they can report in a developmental manner that will influence good governance in the public sector.
Messages meant for journalists (and by extension the public) were simplified to ensure better understanding of not only the audit jargon, but also the issues hindering public sector efficiency.
While it is still early to measure the effect of the new #cultureshift2030 strategy in the media, it is worth noting that media agencies have started using related terminology such as accountability ecosystem in their reporting jargon – indicating our influence in framing AGSA messages.
Social media platforms were used extensively to educate citizens and spread messages on government performance. Initiatives supporting our image as an employer and profiling our leaders also featured on the social media platforms. We continually simplify our products to deliver crisp and clear messages that are easy to understand and clearly guide the audience to action. Our narrative is complemented with visuals and images to strengthen our messaging. These messages empower citizens, giving them the ability to steadily be informed and active citizens that question those in key positions about their inaction and apathy to their roles and its impact on our country.