WHILE corrupt public servants must be punished, there are too many "soft landings" for them at the moment, said Freeman Nomvalo, accountant-general in the Treasury.
"There is the wrong tone at the top," Mr Nomvalo said at the Southern African Internal Audit Conference on Wednesday.
"Those charged with the responsibility of running the municipality must do the right things and there must be consequences," he said.
While there would always be "political power plays" and pressure in an audit, political agendas did not justify processes being flouted, the accountant-general said, adding that the political agenda was "often a smokescreen for something else … by corrupt people".
Intervention by national government into the affairs of a number of provincial governments in February was welcomed, he said, though progress remained far too slow.
Only 13 of 343 municipalities received unqualified audits in the latest round of financial results.
This prompted auditor-general Terence Nombembe to say the results in some provinces showed a number of regressions, and an increase in unauthorised, irregular, as well as fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
"Disciplinary processes have not taken place in some areas, so the problem lies at the leadership level," Mr Nombembe said after the release of the results in July.
Director of advisory services at Ernst & Young, Celestine Munda, said that through government, the public sector was the ultimate citizen, "but we have increasing failures in terms of corporate governance."
While there was a need for strong and effective audit committees at the municipal level, a "culture change" was needed in the public service, one that says: "when something goes wrong, people will not be given a soft landing elsewhere.
"This culture change requires a breed of people at leadership level who understand there will be consequences for them too," commented Mr Nomvalo.
However, people who occupy these positions must be properly empowered to do their jobs.
"We’ve got the legislation — now we need all the channels in government working," he said, adding that a strong Treasury was not enough to ensure effective oversight across government.
"You need those structures to raise the uncomfortable questions so not all people get away with murder," said Mr Nomvalo.
While local government had seen some improvement over the years, human capacity had not kept pace with reforms, said Lungelwa Dlulisa, programmes manager in municipal finance at the South African Local Government Association.
Getting value for money from government departments, a bone of contention within the Treasury for years, has now come to a head.
"Getting value for money remains a challenge that must be overcome," said Themba Godi, chairman of Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts.