Supreme Audit: Cornerstone of Public Accountability Bicci Alli

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Governance as defined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the “exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences…Governance encompasses the state, but transcends the state by including the private sector and civil society organizations.” (UNDP, 1997).

One of the core foundations for good governance is accountability—the obligation to render an account for a responsibility conferred. In government, accountability is a process that subjects a form of control over Departments and Agencies, causing them to give a general accounting for their actions, an essential concept in Democratic Public Administration. Four important criteria are regarded as basic to accountability.

These are 1) Fiscal or financial accountability which is concerned with adherence to applicable laws, rules and regulations, consistency with appropriate principles, concepts and conventions; accuracy and fairness of reports and legitimacy of expenditure. 2) Managerial Accountability deals with the generation of essential information for decision-making and the need for economy, efficiency and effectiveness of operations. (Omopariola, 1991).3.) Programme Accountability; is primarily concerned with the overall evaluation of programme impact and the extent to which intended goals and aspirations are attained.4) Individual accountability relates to personal qualities and conduct demonstrated by accountable officers. It involves such attributes as commitment, honesty, trust, probity and integrity.

Role of Supreme Audit in Public Finance Accountability
Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs)are national agencies responsible for auditing Government revenue and spending. Their legal mandates, reporting relationships, and effectiveness vary, reflecting different Governance systems and Government policies. But their primary purpose is to oversee the management of public funds and the quality and credibility of governments’ reported financial data.

The Lima Declaration issued by the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) in 1977 states that through their auditing work, SAIs should pursue the following four objectives: 1. Communication of information to public authorities and the general public through the publication of objective reports 2. Development of sound financial management 3. Proper execution of administrative activities 4. Proper and effective use of public funds.

Government auditing as provided by the Auditor General’s office is a corner stone of good public sector governance. By providing unbiased objective assessments of whether public resources are responsibly and effectively managed to achieve intended results, the Auditor –General’s audit helps Government organizations achieve accountability and integrity, improve operation, and instil confidence among citizen and stakeholder. (Oshsami1997). The Auditor-Generals role combines oversight, insight and foresight. The oversight role of Government audit by the Auditor General ensures that government entities are doing what they are supposed to do and deter public corruption.

Auditor-General insight role assist decision-maker and enhance good public governance by providing an independent assessment of government programmes, policies, operation and result. The Auditor-General functionaries promotes accountability and transparency and good public governance using such tools as financial audits, performance audits as well as investigation and advisory services. Government auditors under the Auditor General play such roles as the recognition and reporting of corruption, abuse of authority, failure to provide equity or due process in the exercise of government policies.

Audit Report is an effective instrument for legislative oversight over the executive’s dealings with public finance. Both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Auditor General form the bedrock of public accountability, serving as external control devices on the executive arm of government. The Auditor-General audit helps government organizations achieve accountability and integrity, improve operation, and instil confidence among citizen and stakeholder.

Who performs Supreme Audit in Nigeria?
Auditor General is empowered by Section 85 (4-6) of the Constitution the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to “conduct checks of all government statutory corporations, commissions, authorities, agencies, including all persons and bodies established by an Act of the National Assembly”.

The Financial Regulations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1976) states that the Auditor-General has the following powers: i. Unhindered access to books and records of all Ministries and Extra-Ministerial Departments at reasonable times. ii. Power to request for information and explanation necessary for duties. iii. Power to carry out special investigation in any Ministry and Extra-Ministerial Departments. iv. Power to carry out Ad-hoc investigation in any Ministry or Extra-Ministerial Department. Perhaps, Government’s most distinct control Institution over the public funds is the office of the Auditor-General for the Federation.

From the foregoing, the Auditor-General for the Federation (AGF) is the officer recognized by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to perform Supreme Audit in Nigeria. The Auditor General at Federal, State and Local government levels provide external auditing services to all non-commercial (strictly public and services) Department and Ministries of Government. While each of the Ministries and Department has their internal audit functionaries, the Auditor General’s office provides external supervisory audit function to them. On the other hand, Government Commercial Department/Parastatals have independent non-governmental public accounting firms as their external auditors. These external auditors’ employment is however partially processed (recommended) by the office of the Auditor General of Federal level for the federal government parastatals and at state government level for state government parastatals.

The office of the Auditor General of the Federation is created by law as a check on the general performance of government and is given free hand to examine in such a manner he may deem fit, all accounts relating to public funds and properties and shall ascertain and report as to whether:

i. Accounts have been properly kept, ii. All public monies collected have been fully accounted for iii. Government monies have been expended for the purpose for which they were appropriated? iv. The necessary rules and regulations are being complied with in the disbursement of public funds v. Essential record is maintained and procedures applied are sufficient enough to safeguard and control public property and funds.vi. The Financial Statements prepared by the Accountant-General of the Federation show a true and fair view of the state of affairs of the Nation.

Evaluation of Nigeria Supreme Audit Process
Corruption could be defined as abuse of entrusted power for private gains. The country suffers politically, Economically, Social fibre is eroded and experience serious environmental degradation as regulatory agencies fail to enforce environmental regulations.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2018, The index ranks 180 Countries and Territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. Nigeria is ranked 144 out of 180 economics profiled and scored 27 far below the average of 43.

From the above report, Supreme Audit Institutions in Nigeria have not been performing their functions as enshrined in the Constitution. While Nigeria has made serious stride in combating corruption going by the achievements of EFFC, ICPC, etc these are after the misdemeanour must have been committed. Some of the crimes might go undetected. Even where detected, major part of the public assets stolen might not be recovered. In other word the efforts are post mortem rather than ante mortem. SAIs stand in polar position to prevent and deter looting and mismanagement of public.

In Nigeria, The SAIs simply lack the capacity to fulfil their functions. They are underfunded, understaffed, under skilled, and constrained by very narrow mandates. Developments in information technology and new approaches to public financial management have generated new technical challenges for SAIs. In order to perform their basic financial audit functions, the technology skills of auditors need to be strengthened so that they can effectively monitor electronic transactions,

The political challenges facing Supreme Audit Institutions in Nigeria are twofold: they need to protect their independence and to impose their recommendations on the executive. Many SAIs are exposed to undue political influence. Closely related to the political challenges is the challenge of improving communication between SAIs and legislatures, Civil Society Organisations, the media, and the public.

Conclusion
Through audit activities and extension of SAI’s functions, financial accountability, good governance, proper management of public funds could be enforced and at the same time the confidence towards budgetary organizations can be maintained or restored.
For SAI’s successful operation, and to generate added value of its reports there are several factors that must be in place: adequate funding, provision of needed facilities, compatible staffing structure and other professional capacities, the adoption of international standards (e.g. ISSAI standards), supportive environment, cooperation and knowledge sharing with other SAIs and specialized organizations. Legislatures, Civil Society Organisations, the media, and the public must also be alive to their statutory and civil responsibilities in demanding for and acting on the Audit reports as issued by SAIs.

Alli, was at different times, the Executive Chairman of Oyo and Osun State Boards of Internal Revenue