• Senate passes NFIU bill

•Threatens to withhold budgets of parastatals over unaudited accounts

Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo in Abuja

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, wednesday queried a unilateral action by the House Conference Committee to expunge some sections of the report on a bill for an Act to establish the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).

This came as the Senate wednesday passed the bill which seeks to separate the unit from the EFCC, and grant her financial and operational autonomy.

The lower chamber had last Tuesday adopted the recommendations of the harmonised report.

But shortly before the commencement yesterday’s plenary proceedings, Dogara, who would usually approve the votes and proceedings of the previous legislative day, raised concerns that sections of the report had been expunged by the House Conference Committee, chaired by Hon. Kayode Oladele (APC, Ogun).

The Speaker specifically noted that the sections deleted were not subject of disagreement between the House and the Senate, stressing that any removal could have been justified if there was a conflict on any sections and which could not be resolved by both chambers.

Furthermore, Dogara, quoting relevant House Rules, said it was not within the purview of conference committee to delete any section of the bill without recourse to the House in plenary where the decision will be agreed upon.
As a result, the Speaker asked the Chairman, Rules and Business, Hon. Emmanuel Oker-jev (APC, Benue), to move a motion that the NFIU report be re-committed for second reading-to allow the general House formally decide on whether or not to overrule the committee on the deleted sections.
The motion was seconded and passed.

Meanwhile, the Senate wednesday passed the bill.
Saraki in his remarks after the passage, expressed hope that Nigeria’s suspension from the Egmont Group would be lifted with the passage of the bill.

“I hope that with this bill that we have passed today — this Conference Report — that they will have a second view and re-admit us into the process.

“I hope on the part of the executive, they quickly assent to this bill and also ensure that the independence of the Financial Unit goes beyond just signing this bill into law. It is important that we see it being practiced — this is very important. I hope on their part, this will be done so that our country stays as part of the Egmont Group that has a lot of benefits for our fight against corruption,” Saraki said.

However, the Senate yesterday threatened to withhold budgetary approval for any government parastatal or agency that has failed to submit the reports of their audited accounts to the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) for at least the past two years.

This is as the Senate Public Accounts Committee (PAC) disclosed that at least 85 agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Bank of Industry, and Bank of Agriculture, have never submitted their audited account to the AGF since they were established.

The Senate therefore issued a deadline of May 2018 to all parastatals to submit their reports as defaulting contravenes Section 85 of the 1999 Constitution.

The development followed the consideration of PAC report on the status of compliance of parastatals’ submission of audited accounts to the office of the AGF.

Senate President said the failure to submit their audited reports slows down the anti-corruption fight.
“Imagine that out of 447 parastatals, only 40 have complied with the 2017 audited reports. When they say we are not making much progress in the anti-corruption fight, it is because of the fundamental issues. They are right, the foundation is still very weak,” he said.

“If we have 497 parastatals and only 47 have sent their audited reports, there is a serious problem. Now, we find out that the agencies that are even meant to supervise are part of those who have not sent in their audit reports,” Saraki added.

“Now, we have taken a resolution here today to say that unless the remaining agencies do that, their budgets for 2018 is withheld. Therefore, let us remember that when we are passing the 2018 budget, the committees that are presenting the reports of the parastatals should please confirm to us whether they have complied with the auditors report.

“In the mean time, we will make sure that we also communicate to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation to ensure that all theses parastatals get their accounts audited and submitted,” the senate president said.
He expressed appreciation to the PAC, noting that the report would go a long way to support the government’s anti-corruption fight.

PAC Chairman, Senator Matthew Uroghide speaking earlier said the AGF is statutorily required to submit the reports of audited accounts, which he receives from the parastatals, to the National Assembly.

The parastatals have the responsibility to ensure their accounts are audited using one of three auditors recommended by the AGF, Uroghide explained

“EFCC is of the opinion that once they come for budget defence, it amounts to submitting their audited reports. The EFCC Act itself says they have to submit their audited reports six months into the financial year,” he added.