GEORGE NEWS - After controversially serving more than two years on the George municipal external audit committee, Roslyn Saptoe was removed as committee member last week Friday.
Saptoe's committee membership was terminated by George Council because her husband, Donovan, is the municipal chief of traffic*. Council said her close personal relationship with a senior official poses a threat to the independence of the audit committee.
Should she be allowed to serve her full term, it could cost the municipality a clean audit by the Auditor-General (AG).
The matter was debated at a special council meeting on Friday 31 July and according to Mayor Leon van Wyk, all parties present supported the recommendation.
At the time of Saptoe's appointment in March 2018, opposition parties questioned her appointment and the former chairperson of the audit committee, Joe Stoffels, expressed his shock and dismay about her inclusion in the committee.
But, under the leadership of then mayor, Melvin Naik, Council did not take steps to prevent or cancel her membership of the all-important watchdog committee.
Saptoe, however, is convinced that two other members of the audit committee are behind her dismissal. "They wanted to get rid of me, and now they have. I think they were hoping I would resign, but I refuse to resign for what I believe is right," said Saptoe, also accusing the two of racism.
"With my appointment they knew my husband holds a senior position. The independence risk has been dealt with three times in Council. Since I joined the audit committee my integrity and humanity have been affected. It's just the icing on the cake that this item [of 31 July] was done behind my back."
With less than a year of Saptoe's three-year term to go, she demands to know what necessitated the sudden urgency to get rid of her.
Flagged by the AG
According to the deputy director of Financial Management, Leon Wallace, the municipality runs a risk of losing their clean audit status should they turn a blind eye to two previous audit findings by the Auditor-General (AG) on Saptoe's appointment.
"The George Municipality responded to the audit finding when it was first raised in the 2017/18 period [the municipality explained why they disagreed with the finding]. However, the Auditor-General was not satisfied and once more flagged the matter in the 2018/19 period," said Wallace. "Not addressing the matter could have an adverse effect on the 2019/20 audit findings to be issued."
According to Van Wyk, Council considered the independence requirements of legislation, the Audit Committee Charter, the best practice principles including the King IV Code of Governance and the audit finding raised by the AG.
"As a member of the audit committee, Saptoe was at all times aware of these audit findings," said Van Wyk. "It would have been in the best interests of the George Municipality and the audit committee to have resigned. The action taken by Council was merely aimed at addressing the findings of the Auditor-General and adhering to relevant legislation and good governance practices."
Letter to the mayor
Saptoe has submitted a letter of complaint to Van Wyk, accusing chairperson Adele Potgieter and committee member Christo Lamprecht of racism, victimisation and intimidation. Van Wyk confirmed receipt of Saptoe's letter, sent 01:00 on the morning of Friday 31 July, just hours before the council meeting. The letter includes a previous affidavit by Saptoe pertaining to similar allegations, which was submitted to the former mayor, Melvin Naik, in 2019.
In her response to the allegations, Potgieter said that, as chairperson of the Audit and Performance Committee, it is her duty to chair the meetings in accordance with the council approved audit charter and to incorporate best practices as described by the AG and King IV code. "From time to time committee members have different viewpoints that are debated in a quest to find optimum resolutions for the municipality," said Potgieter.
"Members are expected to act in a professional, ethical manner and are not encouraged to take different viewpoints personally, as they should have the emotional intelligence to be able to handle a difference in opinions without feeling victimised, intimidated or making it a gender or race issue. I reserve my rights with regard to other allegations made against me."
Lamprecht said, "I want to categorically state that I have no problem with Roslyn as a person nor my interactions with her in committee." He stressed the fact that, as stated in the Municipal Finance Management Act, the audit committee chairperson and members should be independent of the municipality or municipal entity.
"When applying guidelines as stated in the King IV report, it must be viewed from the premise of what a reasonable and informed third party (i.e. Auditor-General) would think."
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