South Africa’s R92 billion-sized hole

 ·1 May 2024

The South African government loses around R86 billion a year due to material irregularities in its financial statements, with provincial governments losing around R2.1 billion more and local governments losing another R3.9 billion (R92 billion total). 

According to the Fiscal Transparency Evaluation Report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for South Africa, a team from the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department (FAD) conducted a Fiscal Transparency Evaluation (FTE) from 11 to 25 July 2023, at the request of the National Treasury.

During the evaluation, the IMF held several meetings with senior staff of the National Treasury, including deputy director generals Edgar Sishi and Duncan Pieterse.

The report noted that the National Treasury has been “commendably transparent” in its reporting practices and has maintained strict oversight of public finances despite the widespread corruption and governance issues plaguing the state.

Despite the compliment, the report further noted the government’s financial reporting has been consistently marred by material irregularities that have remained unaddressed.

To better understand the extent of these irregularities and their primary causes, the IMF team analysed audit reports provided by the Auditor-General, which revealed significant losses due to material irregularities.

Material irregularity is a term that refers to a situation where a person fails to comply with legal requirements, engages in fraud or theft, or violates their entrusted duty.

Such actions can cause significant financial loss, misuse or loss of public resources, or harm to public institutions or the general public.

The Auditor General’s annual reports are a valuable source of information.

They provide detailed insights into the number of material irregularities found in each government sphere and the estimated financial loss resulting from them.

According to the latest report, 60 material irregularities were identified in the national government, which is a significant cause of concern.

These irregularities have resulted in an estimated financial loss of R86 billion, which is a huge amount and highlights the need for better financial management and accountability within the government.

At the provincial level of government, 82 instances of irregularities were identified, which amounted to a total of R2.1 billion.

At the local government level, 185 irregularities were pointed out, with a total value of R3.9 billion, for an estimated R92 billion in lost funds.

These irregularities included issues related to procurement, resource management, revenue management, fraud, and compliance.

Material irregularities are a significant reason behind repeated qualified (unclean) audits across government entities.

While unqualified (clean) audit reports have slightly improved over time, they still only make up 24% of all audit report opinions.

Read: R3 billion ‘performance’ bonuses for government workers

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