Auditor-General Calls for Passage of Audit Autonomy Bill

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• Says it will fast-track anti-corruption fight

Joseph Ushigiale

The Auditor General of the Federation, Mr. Anthony Ayine, has called on the Senate to speedily pass the Audit Autonomy Bill currently before it to strengthen the present administration’s anti-corruption fight of enthroning transparency, accountability and good governance.

In an interview with THISDAY recently, Ayine who threw his weight behind calls for the federal government to adopt a prevention rather than cure philosophy in its fight against corruption, explained that an autonomous or independent audit office would open the doors for foreign direct investment through the issuance of credibility reports and assurances of clean state of accounts.

He advised the federal government to adopt prevention rather than cure policy in its anti-corruption fight, stressing: “I am sure we have seen in our context in this country that once somebody has taken out money, the chances that you can recover 100 per cent are very, very low. In fact, that you can recover even 75 per cent, I think it is very difficult. So we have to begin to develop appropriate measures, through technologies now, to be able to advise government timely, to prevent certain things from happening; because that will help.

“Look at the cost of litigation, the efforts in recovering the stolen money; they are very costly. So if there are methods and measures to stop or prevent irregular practices we advise or recommend promptly. I think preventive measures will pay off handsomely than waiting until somebody has taken the money; he’s gone and then we are later going to court; I think that is expensive, and the chances of full recovery are not there.”

According to him, “Investors may want to invest in Nigeria; yes, they will look at the financial statements prepared by the Accountant-General. What will give credibility and assurance to them that yes, we can invest in this country is the assurance, which is provided by the Auditor-General? And this leads to what exactly we emphasise about independence of the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation; because whether an investor or financial analyst or other stakeholders who are interested in the accounts of the nation, will expect to see that the Auditor-General operates in an environment where he/she enjoys true independence; that yes, he carries out his audit work, certifies and gives his audit opinion objectively.”

Lamenting the impact the non-passage of the audit bill is having on the country’s status within the continent and globally, Ayine explained: “We have a situation where our personnel are recruited and promoted through the Federal Civil Service Commission or Head of Service of the Federation to post staff to the Office; and that is not acceptable within the AFROSAI-E context, and even in the international Audit community, that is a minus as far as the audit independence is concerned.”

On the issue of funding, he stated that inadequate funding will work against the anticipated independence of the audit office. “What about financial independence, how do you get your funding? Can you be sure of your funds? We still have challenges. For instance, the 2017 Budget, what the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation got is very, very discouraging. Outside the personnel emoluments, we have approximately about N700 million including capital funds. For you to effectively operate the Office, and to execute your mandate, you need funds,” he said.