MDAs should account for public revenues — The PUNCH Editorial

September 5, 2021
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MDAs should account for public revenues — The PUNCH Editorial

Posted by News Express | 5 September 2021 | 42 times

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•Senate President Lawan and Reps Speaker Gbajabiamila

RECENT reports about federal ministries, departments and agencies explain how fiscal rascality, official indifference and poor oversight deprive the Nigerian government of its legitimate revenues and impoverish the country. A revelation by the Auditor-General for the Federation that MDAs failed to account for N4.97 trillion in 2019 was followed by the sensational disclosure by the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts that 65 public agencies had never been audited since they were established. Both the Federal Government and National Assembly need an attitudinal change, and should treat public funds with the utmost care, instil accountability, and ensure full compliance with the 1999 Constitution and relevant financial regulations.

In Section 162, the constitution says “the Federation shall maintain a special account to be called ‘the Federation Account’ into which shall be paid all revenues collected by the Government of the Federation, except the proceeds from the personal income tax of the personnel of the armed forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force, the Ministry or department of government charged with responsibility for Foreign Affairs and the residents of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.” While it is universally accepted that public financial accountability is one of the critical bedrocks of a functional democratic polity, successive Nigerian governments, and parliaments since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic have demonstrated scant regard for this principle and constitutional provisions.

Presenting the Federal Government’s 2019 audit report to the NASS, the AuGF, Adolphus Aghughu, said “unsubstantiated balances amounting to N4.97 trillion were observed,” adding that this figure was above the materiality level of N89.34 billion set for the audit. Materiality, he explained, “means not just a quantified amount but also the effect that amount will have in various contexts.” Though he clarified later that the sums were not necessarily missing, only unaccounted for, he said institutional deficiencies were crippling the operations of the Office of the AuGF, “thereby giving room for all forms of financial infractions across the various MDAs.”

Shoddy accounting is bad enough, the failure of 65 MDAs to even bother with audits as mandated by the constitution and enabling laws is criminal. The House committee chairman, Oluwole Oke, said 12 other MDAs were not audited from 1993 to 2010. Many others routinely fail to file annual audited reports, and when presented to the parliament at all, reports are presented late. According to Oke, 76 MDAs filed no audited reports in 2011, 85 did not file in 2012, 109 in 2013, 148 in 2014, 215 in 2015 and 323 in 2016.

The 1999 Constitution empowers the AuGF to receive, and comment on the audit reports “of the public accounts of the Federation and all offices and courts of the Federation.” Although the law precludes the AuGF from auditing MDAs, he is nevertheless authorised to conduct periodic checks on them, recommend a list of approved external auditors for them, comment on their annual accounts and submit the same to each chamber of the NASS. The parliament is empowered to enquire into and scrutinise all public accounts, make laws and correct any defective law, and compel accountability through investigation by its committees.

The President too has executive powers that he exercises directly or delegates to his ministers to enforce compliance with the laws and extant financial regulations. The shameful failure of leadership by both arms of government facilitates the culture of impunity and flagrant lack of accountability.

The country pays heavily for this ingrained laxity. An allegation in March that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation failed to remit N4.07 trillion was never resolved. A similar outcry by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission that 32 MDAs withheld N1.2 trillion, as well as the alarm by CSOs in 2020 that statutory revenues of N5.78 trillion were never remitted, attracted neither vigorous investigation nor remedy. Yet, the House screamed in June that the country lost over $30 billion through revenue leakages between 2015 and 2019.

Obviously, the government and the NASS are unconcerned because funds roll in from oil receipts, guaranteeing their opulent lifestyle while over 70 percent of the populace lives in poverty. Over 33 percent are jobless. Sixty-nine million persons, among them, says UNICEF, 26 million children, lack access to safe drinking water; 10.19 million children are out of school, and 67 percent lack access to basic healthcare facilities. The negligence facilitates massive looting by politicians, civil servants, and their contractor accomplices, draining funds away from social services.

Yet, accrual-based accounting is possible in public service. In 2019, the Ishaq Oloyede-led JAMB remitted N5 billion to the Federal Government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund and N7 billion in 2020. But before Oloyede stepped in as Registrar, the same agency returned a paltry N50 million to the government between 2010 and 2016, a period of six years.

Nigeria must upgrade to global best practices and ICT-driven public finance. Functional democracies do not toy with public funds; instead, parliaments guard the treasury fiercely. In the United States and Europe, parliaments would rather shut down government operations than allow a cent of public funds to be unaccounted for or spent without authorisation. The President and the NASS must overcome the prevailing “isomorphic mimicry” syndrome where institutions exist on paper, aping the strong agencies elsewhere, but failing miserably to make them work and achieve desired outcomes.

With the country afflicted by successive careless administrations, the NASS has been downright irresponsible; the first job of a parliament is to look after public money, jealously guarding its right to levy taxes and authorise expenditure. Beyond periodically raising the alarm, conducting expensive and ultimately fruitless inquiries, the NASS should wield its constitutional power effectively. Accountability must be restored to recover public funds and provide infrastructure, education, healthcare, and water.

To enforce fiscal rectitude, the parliament should exercise effective oversight. It should refuse to approve spending for MDAs that fail to file approved audited accounts and in time. Pressure should be applied on the Presidency by withholding approvals for loans, appointments, and appropriation unless accountability laws and regulations are strictly complied with. Time limits for filing audit reports must be sacrosanct. MDAs with backlogs of audits and unremitted funds should be denied budget consideration and approval until they comply fully.

Funding, equipping, and professionalising the offices of the AuGF and the Accountant-General of the Federation should be prioritised. The latest ICT tools to identify and track spending, and revenue inflows in real-time should be installed and the staff well trained and remunerated. Forensic examination should be regular. The current crisis requires strong intervention by the anti-graft agencies to investigate and prosecute offenders tampering with public funds.

Civil society organisations should effectively always engage with governments and hold them accountable for the management of public funds. Buhari should drive the campaign for accountability and ensure timely remittance of public revenues as prescribed by the constitution. (Sunday PUNCH)

Source: News Express


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