Auditor-General’s reports and impunity of MDAs — The Punch Editorial

Posted by News Express | 17 February 2022 | 505 times

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•Auditor-General of the Federation, Mr Adolphus Aghughu


THE long-running imbroglio over discrepancies discovered by the Auditor-General for the Federation in the financial reports filed by federal ministries, departments and agencies reflects sharply the failure of institutional financial oversight and the anti-corruption campaign. Just recently, the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee probing unsubstantiated N4.97 trillion in federal balance sheets for 2019 once more summoned the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and four ministers and their permanent secretaries to appear before it to account for the funds. Together, the parliament and the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should use this episode to end the rot.

By all accounts, despite being in dire financial straits, the Nigerian government’s treasury continues to leak like a sieve. Notwithstanding numerous reports, parliamentary enquiries, and investigations over the years and over six years into the Buhari regime, the haemorrhage has persisted, with sloppy accounting by MDAs and the authorities seemingly helpless to stop it. In the ongoing episode, despite repeated reports by the AuGF, Adolphus Aghughu, over the discrepancies in the MDAs’ financial reports, the Federal Government had maintained a deafening silence. This is not how to fight corruption.

Aghughu had while submitting the 2019 audit report to the National Assembly, said his office uncovered unverified balances in the consolidated financial statement of the Federal Government. He said, “The N4.97 trillion unsubstantiated balances are above the materiality level of N89.34 billion set for the audit.” Materiality means not just a quantified amount, but also the effect that amount will have in various contexts. Furthermore, required queries issued against agencies found to be involved in the infractions were not honoured in all cases.

The NASS also came out tarnished. The AuGF revealed how Nigerian lawmakers ‘diverted’ over N5.2 billion in 2019; how the House of Representatives made payments from a salary account in billions, without payment vouchers, as required by extant regulations. The report said expenditures ranging from “running costs” to repairs and maintenance could not be accounted for.

Reflecting the impunity that pervades governance in the country, the report regretted that there was no response to the queries and concerns raised by the AuGF, either by the House or the management of the NASS. This is unaccountability taken too far.

Accountability, says Article 19, an NGO, should be paramount. “Democracy is also about accountability and good governance,” it said.  But a major challenge for Nigeria is a lack of accountability and transparency. This has been fuelling corruption, alienating the populace, and depriving the country of functional infrastructure and social services. There is a clear culture of not accounting for resources conferred on the political leaders and those entrusted with the levers of power, in public office and in the professional public service. Such abuse is evident in the AuGF’s annual reports.

The culture of unaccountable power pervades all the strata of government MDAs. Some appear to have run out of control. There is also the recurring inability or refusal of ministers and other public officers to provide satisfactory explanations for expenditures and revenues to parliamentary committees. The ministers summoned by the Reps committee include those of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Health, Osagie Ehanire; Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; and Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami. Like the CBN, their representatives in earlier appearances before the panel had failed to render full accounting of their activities, prompting the latest summons. Lawmakers should insist on full accountability.

According to the report, a whopping 25 MDAs failed woefully to account, submit, adhere and obey the extant laws governing the annual AuGF’s report as clearly stipulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

What is striking is that the major revenue earning agencies are neck-deep in financial misconduct. Even more baffling is why the government and the NASS have over the years failed to enforce fiscal accountability on these agencies. From the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service to many other MDAs, opacity, and lack of accountability reign supreme. The anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission need to be unleashed on some of these agencies to uncover crime and corruption and bring the perpetrators to book.

The NASS is complicit and weak. The AuGF’s report is a damning indictment on the lawmakers. When about 25 per cent of MDAs deliberately failed the threshold set by the government itself through the FRA on accountability and transparency, a vibrant parliament should stand firmly on its constitutional authority to demand and compel obedience to the law.

Beyond regularly summoning ministers and heads of MDAs to grandstand and make headlines, the lawmakers need to re-strategise on how to effectively mount pressure on the President and the executive branch to bow to the law. One way is to refuse approving budgets for any MDA that has not met all accountability requirements stipulated by the law.

Where the President fails to act decisively to order MDAs to be accountable, the NASS should consider withholding assent on his requests for authority to obtain loans, confirm his nominees for public appointments, and withhold funding. Between 1976 and 2021, there have been 22 government shutdowns when the United States Congress failed to pass funding legislation for the next fiscal year because of disagreements between lawmakers and the executive branch. Though an undesirable scenario, it is the consequence of the parliament asserting its constitutional prerogative over spending and to compel accountability.

This report, unlike many before it, should not be covered up. The MDAs, ministers and heads of agencies must account for every kobo of public funds. Buhari should demonstrate his sincerity in fighting corruption by cleaning up the agencies and demanding full accounting from the affected MDAs.

At the end of its enquiry, the Reps panel should file petitions with the EFCC and the ICPC to ensure that those whose behaviour bordered on financial crimes are removed from the public service and prosecuted.

Source: News Express

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