Public Protector says Internal Auditors should be less of Policemen but more of the conscience of their organisations
Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Tuesday took part in a panel discussion during the Southern African Internal Auditors Conference in Sandton, calling on internal auditors to be more of the conscience of their organisations rather than policing the powers that be.
Sharing her thoughts on the topic “Key to Governance: Tough Questions, Difficult Conversations and Continual Introspection”, the Public Protector asked internal auditors why was it that some organs of state that consistently got clean audits ended up with difficult cases, where millions of rands had gone into corrupt deals or deals that should not have been entered into. She asked whether it was because internal auditors were not always whispering truth to the powers that be or whether it was because t
Without effective oversight by strong integrity systems, said the Public Protector, grand plans entailed in the National Develop Plan, State of the Nation Address, State of the Province Addresses and State of the City Addresses were pipe dreams. The same applied to the corporate sector as great visions and strategic plans in the corporate world were also doomed to fail if there was no effective oversight, particularly ensuring good financial controls, compliance and risk management, she said.
The Public Protector said as society moved forward with the introspection, it should also ask itself why was it that more and more countries in the African continent were going down on the Transparency International Corruption Index. She asked if it was because internal audit was picking up problem areas and that the issues in question were not being taken care of or whether there were problems around power dynamics in organizations that prevented internal auditors from speaking truth to power. She further asked if it should be a concern to society that media stories around malfeasance and corruption were becoming the order of the day.
The Public Protector told delegates that her office had somewhat a similar role to that of internal auditors as it formed part of internal national integrity systems. She said she was grateful that internal auditors were not failing to provide leadership where necessary regarding issues relating to financial controls, risk management and governance. She said her view was that internal auditors were doing excellent work around policing but needed to step up their role with regard to leadership in so far as engaging leaders in organizations about risks and challenges and ensuring action.
She indicated that an agency like her office only came in when the damage was already done and that it was better to rely on systems that worked well rather than on policing organisation to do the right thing. The Public Protector said she was also monitored by internal auditors and was grateful that they were the first to warn her if her office was heading for a cliff before the Auditor-General comes in.
She said if internal auditors strengthened their watchful eye and voices to whisper truth to power, they would help to ensure that companies don’t implode or find out that things are bad only when external auditors come in. The Public Protector emphasised that the role of internal auditors was to identify and highlight problem areas and alert management of these risks, financial control challenges and governance failures. She said internal auditors should be less of policemen but more of the conscience of organisations by engaging decision makers, leading together with them.
In conclusion, the Public Protector said internal auditors should be an early warning mechanism that makes decision makers aware of pitfalls and governance challenges. Asked what questions internal auditors should be asking, she said they should confront leaders on bad decisions on employment, finance and procurement, asking them if they would like such decisions to set precedents for the culture they would like to see entrenched in their organisations and broader society.