College of Accounting Sciences

Stretching the public purse


Prof Lourens Erasmus, Professor in Public Sector Financial Governance UNISA

Objective audit committees for public institutions should be non-negotiable

At a time when the country is struggling with uncertain economic sustainability, the taxpayer should expect the most value from public spending to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment.Yet, looting of public resources continues unabated, despite the public outcry. Daily news reports tell of food parcels being diverted or used for political leverage and contract prices being inflated to ridiculous levels – all while the perpetrators openly flaunt their ill-gotten gains.

 Where are the audit committees of public institutions to monitor management and ensure accountability? Why are they not ensuring that key controls are operating, that ethical practices are being reinforced? The Research on Audit Committees South Africa (RACSA) project at Unisa has researched the factors influencing the effectiveness of the public sector audit committees.

 “A root cause of ineffective public sector audit committees is destructive leadership behaviour. We defined this as volitional leadership behaviour to protect counterproductive factional interests,” says Professor Lourens Erasmus.

 Politicians and senior management can only exert their influence if the audit committee’s independence and objectivity is impaired. However, current legislation allows for ministers, MECs, municipal councils and their institutional heads to recommend and appoint the members on their own audit committees.

“We need audit committees that can execute their function without fear or favour. This can be achieved by amending legislation that regulates the recommendation and appointment of members to these committees,” says Lourens.

 “At the rate we are going, failure may result in a failed state with social devastation, whereas success may ensure a government that responds to the needs of its people.”

* Original article published on

Publish date: 2020/12/03