By Akanimo Sampson
Apparently irked by a recent report by the Auditor-General for the Federation (AGF), Anthony Ayine, which further exposed the romp of government agencies in their crass breach of sundry financial regulations, The Punch in a damning editorial this Thursday says the lack of accountability in the management of the public finance in Nigeria is epidemical.
Also on the spot on the leader opinion of the newspaper is the rumbling and anger across the country on the jumbo pay of politicians, especially those of the federal legislators. The Punch said, ‘’Nigerians should demand that the lawmakers justify their pay – reputed to be among the highest in the world, despite the country’s dire financial straits’’.
Most government corporations and agencies have not submitted their audited accounts for 2016, while many have not complied at all since their inception. Records are shoddy or not kept at all in some cases.
According to the newspaper, ‘’details of these anomalies as unfolded by the AGF, showed that 65 agencies have never submitted audited accounts since they were set up; 76 others last submitted theirs in 2010; 51 bodies complied with the requirements for 2016; and only 149 audited statements for the 2015 financial year were submitted in 2017. This raises a big question mark on President Muhammadu Buhari’s much-vaunted anti-corruption crusade.
‘’Involved in these infractions are the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and 62 other ministries, agencies and departments. About N4.87 billion outstanding personal advances as of December 31, 2016 had not been accounted for.
‘’In the case of the EFCC, the auditor’s report claimed that the N13.96 billion salaries and wages in its consolidated financial statement did not reflect in its trial balance submitted for reconciliation, just as the commission, along with the National Assembly, the Presidency and 40 other agencies did not remit deductions worth more than N3.79 billion. The most outstanding case is the N500 billion, which the parliament did not properly account for.
Agonisingly, Ayine said, As of April 2018, 109 agencies have not submitted beyond 2013… despite the provision of Financial Regulation 3210 (v), which enjoins these bodies to submit both audited accounts and management (report) to me not later than May 31 of the following year of account. What to make out of all this is that the country has one of the most inept and corrupt bureaucracies in the world.’’
Continuing, the rest of the editorial said, ‘’this cocktail of abuses explains why there is a looting spree in government; and it is even more worrisome that they occur in a democracy despite extant institutional checks and balances to ensure effective control. Where there is a systemic breakdown, as the current situation suggests, there is the need for strong leadership from a chain of authorities: the President, the National Assembly, ministers, Head of Service of the Federation and permanent secretaries in the ministries to reverse the mess.
‘’Since 1999, the alarm bell has been ringing, evident in the plaintive reactions of all the AGFs to these breaches. At a workshop for synergy between the House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee and the Department for International Development, United Kingdom in 2015, for instance, Samuel Ukura, Ayine’s immediate predecessor, noted that the Auditor-General’s reports for 16 years submitted to the legislature, haven’t been passed to the plenary session, let alone passed to the Executive for implementation.
‘’Because of the critical importance of maintaining surveillance on public treasury, the constitution created the AGF’s office and committees of Public Accounts Committees in the House and Senate. By global parliamentary convention, the opposition political parties oversee such committees in order to keep the ruling party in check. But here, their performance is most bizarre. Though there is enough blame to go round for this disarray, the National Assembly lawmakers deserve the biggest condemnation because the constitution confers on them a huge responsibility in the control of public funds. Decidedly, lawmakers’ refusal to consider reports forwarded to them is an indelible odium and an indicator of their involvement in the racket.
‘’Besides public accounts, there are over 100 standing committees in both chambers fully funded to carry out oversight of the MDAs. The jurisdiction is exercised over more than 400 MDAs to guarantee service delivery. But over the years, they have proved that they cannot be trusted with such a task. Such consciousness should provoke concerns from Nigerians. About N150 billion annually is provided in the budget for their salaries and allowances, particularly gnashing is the N13.5 million monthly allowance as running costs for each senator.
‘’If public service drives legislative engagements in the country, we could have had a radical departure from lawmakers’ toxic indifference to accountability matters after the Senate Committee on Public Accounts revealed in April 2013 that N1.04 trillion out of N1.5 trillion that accrued to Special Accounts between 2002 and 2012 was grossly mismanaged. Ahmad Lawan, the current Senate President, was the chair of that committee. Out of N580 billion “loans” given purportedly to institutions from the funds – a subversion of the objectives for which funds were created – the Senate report said N347 billion had not been recovered.
‘’The observation of the then Senate President, David Mark, was as pungent as it was dead right: “If we had done well since 2002, this should not have happened. But we never bothered to look into this. Overall, we share in the blame, both the executive and the legislature.” This is unlike in the United States Congress, where its oversight activities on government agencies are clinical. For instance, a Disaster Relief Fund Congressional Monthly Report is always demanded by lawmakers and complied with by the bureaucracy. Under this kind of monitoring, raiding public treasury is difficult if not impossible.
‘’Nigerians should demand that the lawmakers justify their pay – reputed to be among the highest in the world, despite the country’s dire financial straits. The civil society groups who realise the import of Ayine’s lamentation – lack of accountability in public finance management for two decades – should radically engage all the authorities concerned to end this rot.’’