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Unisa online - Higher education must teach public sector accounting practices

Dr Molapo Qhobela (Vice-Principal: Institutional Development), Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor), Prof Hellicy Ngambi (Executive Dean: College of Economic and Management Sciences), Prof Divya Singh (Vice-Principal: Advisory & Assurance Services) and Terence Nombembe (Auditor-General)
Dr Molapo Qhobela (Vice-Principal: Institutional Development), Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor), Prof Hellicy Ngambi (Executive Dean: College of Economic and Management Sciences), Prof Divya Singh (Vice-Principal: Advisory & Assurance Services) and Terence Nombembe (Auditor-General)

Unisa and all higher education institutions have been urged and encouraged to thoroughly equip their students to work in the public sector. This, said Auditor-General Terence Nombembe, is crucial if municipalities are to receive clean-audits; and maximize their service delivery.

He was speaking at a College of Economic and Management Sciences alumni breakfast, where he referred to audit outcomes of municipalities – released in July – revealing that about 95% of municipalities had failed to receive clean audits. This, in spite of the millions spent on consultants to assist with handling of their internal auditing.

In addition, Nombembe said, fully capacitated financial departments at municipalities were struggling with the basic concepts of accounting, while the consultants were struggling to relate accounting standards to public sector work. He stressed the importance for higher education institutions to include the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) in their curriculums as very few institutions currently do so. This, he says, will impact greatly.

Although the IPSAS are based on the IAS standards for private companies, Nombembe said they were adapted to the requirements of the public sector. The difference between accounting practices in the private and public sector lies in the objectives of the two. The aim of the public sector, he said, should be to maximize service delivery while that of the private sector is profit.

“How can you report on the service delivery and account for spending if you don’t have evidence of the work that was done and where it happened. It is easy to disperse money, but difficult to account for this,” he said.

Nombembe also said that officials in key positions at municipalities were incompetent, which was a critical factor to the lack of performance. He said, following visits to these municipalities, they concluded that not all the people working in local government were the right people for these positions. Findings revealed that some people did not know their work, others had no regard for the work they were doing; and some had to be retrained or replaced.

The auditor-general said it was important to ask why Unisa alumni and graduates from other institutions were not working for the public sector. “The reasons why government is not an employer of choice for these people should be addressed. A database of alumni students and where they work would go a long way to understanding where these people work,” said Nombembe.

He urged alumni to apply for jobs in the government to strengthen its capacity and to offer skills that were much needed. He said one of the solutions to the problem of accountability in the public sector must start at a point of attracting the right people to come and work in this sector.



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