Dikwa: How We Saved FG from Losing N700b to Fraudulent Practices

1

Dr Mohammed Kyari Dikwa, the immediate past Permanent Secretary (Special Duties), Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning shares his experience as a public officer with journalists. Tobi Soniyi was there. Excerpts

You are a member of the two professional bodies of accountants – ICAN and ANAN- which is rare. What informed your decision to combine the two?
There is a seeming battle of supremacy between members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and their Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN) counterparts. Most ICAN members see ANAN members as inferior accountants because of the impression that they have not gone through rigorous training.

I wanted to make a point that both are achievable and equally important, and the intention was to bring the two bodies together so that the rivalry issue will be
solved. There are advantages of being a member of ANAN and also a lot of advantages of being a member of ICAN. You cannot be a member ANAN unless you have a degree or HND in accountancy or associated degrees. You have to go to the School of Accountancy in Jos, Plateau state, but sometimes they give direct or honorary membership to people which angers ICAN because when you are talking about a profession, you need people to undergo a process for them to become certified members.

You do not allow people to come from the top simply because they are in a position of authority. That is why ICAN does not issue direct membership. As far as ICAN is concerned, you must follow the process no matter who you are. And the process of becoming an ICAN member is very rigorous. You do not need to know anybody, just your performance and hard work would make you be a member of ICAN, meaning you need to study and then sit for the exams. You do not know where the exams are marked and people that mark scripts are changed every year. Whatever your scores will be published. It is not a question of whether you know somebody or not, and really the courses were very vast.

ANAN, which I did in 2000, wasn’t so strict because they just started and they were looking for members. That time, the exams were not that rigorous, but I know ANAN has gotten tough now
I also realized sentiments and biases were created as far as the Federal Civil Service is concerned. Some people will say look at this man/woman, he/she is a member of ICAN or look at this man/woman, he/she is a member of ANAN. Based on this needless rivalry, I decided to be certified by the two bodies so that nobody can tell me you belong to this or that. I am for all, and that way, I will remain relevant wherever the pendulum swings.

In what ways did you contribute to national development as Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning?
I was the pioneer Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. I was also the pioneer Director (Special Duties) in the ministry. And what we have done was to strengthen the operations of public financial management reforms and initiatives like GIFMIS, IPPIS, Whistle Blowing Policy, PICA, Efficiency Unit, Cash Management, Policy Voluntary Assets and Incomes Declaration, etc.
Out of the numerous departments in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, I only supervised three departments and one agency.

The remaining ones were supervised by my colleague, the Permanent Secretary in charge of Finance. I am very proud to have supervised the three departments and one agency. I was able to ensure that the agency was given about 30% of its budget within that period. Also, one of the priorities of President Muhammadu Buhari was to see that government brought home displaced Nigerians, especially those in neighbouring countries. So, what I did was to call the officials of states in the northeast to come up with a mass housing programme that will make it possible for those displaced persons to be returned to their towns and villages. Through this programme, each state was going to undertake a massive housing programme in conjunction with the Family Homes Fund. In addition to that, there are additional houses being constructed currently. I will forever remain grateful because Mr President, through the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, gave me the opportunity to help solve a major crisis that had affected over 80,000 people that were displaced in Cameroon alone. The second outstanding issue was to make sure that the funds meant for the North-East Development Commission were released promptly to enable take-off.

I knew and still know the implications of what is happening there, and I was mindful of Mr President’s desire to reduce the level of poverty and bring peace back to the northeast. We had to work hard to find and release funds quickly for them to start work immediately. The most prominent achievement I had as Permanent Secretary Special Duties was the prompt payment of salaries, overhead cost, capital cost and debt servicing up to December 31, 2019. On the Whistle Blowing Policy, I set up a Committee comprising security agencies which include; DSS, NPF, ICPC, EFCC, etc. to come with a bill to strengthen the operation of the policy. When I was leaving, I handed over everything to the Honourable Minister, and I believe she will forward it to the Federal Executive Council for approval. This is because we need the policy backed by law so that people would have confidence in the system and be protected should they assist the government in uncovering any wrongdoing.

As a Permanent Secretary, how did you relate with your ministers?
I had an excellent working relationship with the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning. I really have tremendous respect for her because I knew the Honourable Minister for about two decades now. When I came into the Federal Civil Service in 2003, I was nominated to serve on the board of NITEL, and she was there running the accounts department. When she became the Chief Finance Officer of MTEL, I was also a board member and chairman of the Finance and General Purpose Committee of MTEL. We later moved to NEITI where I was a board member, and she was our Executive Secretary. When she became Honourable Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, I was in the Federal Ministry of Finance as Director (Special Duties) for three years, and when she came in as the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, I was Permanent Secretary (Special Duties). She is very articulate, honest, hardworking and straightforward in her general dealings with issues. I have really learnt a lot from her.

I have worked directly with about seven Honourable Ministers of Finance, starting with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr Shamsuddeen Usman, Dr Mansur Mukhtar, Mr Olusegun Aganga, Mrs Nenadi Esther Usman, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s second coming, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and Mrs Zainab Ahmed. I had a very good working relationship with all of them. No barrier or protocol. I had direct access to them. They felt they needed somebody who has the institutional background and that they needed me to be working with them directly.
For every office that I occupied in the last 18 years, I tried as much as possible to document my experiences and what the public servant should know. In that regard, I have produced over 17 publications which civil servants now use as reference materials for the purpose of examinations and research.

Give us an insight on how you get involved in the conceptualization and execution of programmes such as GIFMIS, IPPIS, TSA and Whistle Blowing Policy?
Before I joined the Federal Civil Service, I served as the Accountant-General of Borno state and Permanent Secretary of the State Ministry of Finance. I had a background and sound knowledge about financial reforms. When I came to the Federal Civil Service, most of these reforms were not put in place, and nobody was even thinking about them. When the then Accountant-General of the Federation left, and Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo took over the mantle of leadership, we came up with ideas on how to make those financial reforms institutionalized at the federal level.

Dankwambo and I were state Accountants -General of Gombe and Borno states, respectively. In fact, we are close friends and co-authored a book titled “Private and Public Sector Concerns for the Accountant.” We came up with a lot of ideas on the reforms and asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assess the ideas and see if they were in line with global best practice because we didn’t want a situation where the ideas we came up with could not be accepted globally. Interestingly, the World Bank and IMF showed great interest in our ideas of public sector financial reforms. Meanwhile, many other countries had already implemented some of these reforms. We started with the computerization, the GIFMIS and then the IPPIS. On the issue of IPPIS, we were concerned that there were a lot of ghost workers on the payroll, a lot of duplications and double payments, outright inflation of salary figures and so on.

We computerized payments using the biometric data capture, and so on. There was a lot of resistance because of the fear of the unknown. Civil servants using the payroll system to defraud the government also put up a strong resistance, but we refused to put off the reforms. We engaged in serious sensitization and enlightenment campaign, and at the end of the day, we were able to scale through. I did not expect that the process would take government more than 15 years to implement despite the different types of machinery we put in place to ensure speedy implementation.

But you were able to do it in less than 15 years?
Yes! Most of these things had to be fast-tracked. The resistance was so much, and that was what delayed most of the implementation. But we pushed the programmes through. These include the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) that encourages transparency and accountability in public expenditure in line with global best practices. We also came up with the Treasury Single Account (TSA). I drafted the first circular on the TSA which was signed by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. We categorized the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) into eight groups: those that were fully-funded by the government and draw their funding from the budget of the Federal Government, MDAs that were partially-funded (they generate their revenue but also have a government funding component), and those that were not funded completely. There were also revolving funds corporations, and some companies, which are treated under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.

The idea of the Treasury Single Account is that government funds should be channelled and linked with sub-accounts. These subaccounts are then maintained by MDAs to enable them to know what they are paying in and withdrawing from the sub-accounts at any given time. Because of the volume of transactions carried out at the same time, you will find it difficult to tell what exactly the MDAs are doing.

If you look at section 80 sub-section 1 of the Constitution, Consolidated Revenue Account is the account that is constitutionally recognized which gives the government a clear overview of what it has at any given time. So, one of the reasons for having the Treasury Single Account was to have a consolidated view of government resources at any time, online, real-time. Another reason is to reduce the charges by commercial banks.
Before the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, commercial banks used to charge N5 for every N1,000 withdrawn by government or an individual.

Introduction of the TSA also brought about efficiency in service delivery. For example, prior to the implementation of the TSA, if you wanted to release the money, you would have to go through a hectic process via the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the commercial banks. But now, everything is being done electronically within the twinkle of an eye; real-time and online.

Another fundamental reason for the implementation of TSA was to improve the liquidity position of the government. For instance, before the implementation of TSA, the government used to borrow money to fund some projects because monies were released to MDAs not based on need, rather rationally and were being kept in commercial banks at the detriment of the government. Sometimes, government officials connived with the bank officials to keep public funds to accumulate interests, which they shared at the detriment of projects, policies and programmes of government.

With the TSA in place, we only released funds based on the needs of MDAs. Funds are not released just like that anymore. That’s why we introduced another initiative called Cash Management Policy. The policy was introduced to assess the needs of MDAs on a monthly basis primarily. Every month, we met in the Office of the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to assess the needs of MDAs, and we made releases of whatever we had in the treasury based on those assessments. The yearly budgetary estimates would give the MDAs the legal backing of spending, but the cash releases were based on the needs of the government institutions. We had to prioritize spending to ensure that the government makes positive impacts on its key priority areas with the limited resources at its disposal. We channelled funds to the priority projects so that at the end of the day, there will be something to show for the huge expenditure. That was what we did using the mechanisms of the Cash Management Policy.

There are other laudable policies and initiatives like the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing (PICA), the Whistle Blowing Policy and Efficiency Unit, among others. These initiatives were introduced to strengthen government institutions further and instil accountability, transparency and prudent management of government resources. For example, when we came up with the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing, we were able to save the government about N700 billion. The reason was that, if we had allowed MDAs to use their allocations just like that, they would have wasted a huge amount of public funds. What we usually did was that if an agency, say, wanted N1 million for a project, we strived to find out if the agency really needed that N1 million. After we went there and checked, and sometimes we would discover that the agency needed only about N500,000 and not the N1 million requested for. Even if the approved budget were N1 million, we would give only the N500,000 that was actually needed to do the work based on our assessment and findings, meaning we would save the remaining N500,000 for the government that possibly would have been abused.

Through these checks and balances, we were able to save N700 billion that would have been wasted. We also achieved a lot on the Whistle Blowing Policy. The policy was initially introduced to strengthen the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and it has eventually succeeded in reducing the level of corruption in the country, people are now afraid because nobody knows who may report infractions in MDAs. Under the policy, there is a reward system, and people are taking advantage of that to report corruption and corrupt practices in MDAs. They are always eager to report cases so that they can derive the benefits attached to it.

Do you have an interest in politics in the future?
I really do not have any interest in politics, but that does not mean if the government asks me to serve, I will not accept. I will serve, but I am really running away from a situation where I will have to put myself forward for an elective position. I am really not interested in that because I want to, in a peaceful manner, serve the people.

Impacting knowledge and sharing my 35 years of experience as a civil servant are my areas of interest. If I am given the opportunity to bring in people to learn from my experience, that will make me even happier because for me, after 35 years of meritorious service, and although I am now retired, I am certainly not tired of serving humanity. I am looking forward to any opportunity that can be given to me to give back to society. And with the help of God, I continue to do so now in my private capacity.

This country and its people have been nice to me. I have had opportunities to serve at different levels. And one thing, I am most happy about is that for the first time in the history of this country, to the best of my knowledge, a retiring Permanent Secretary was awarded a certificate of meritorious service.

The President approved my exit from the service with lots of prayers and best wishes. The letter was conveyed to me by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation on behalf of the President. Again, the President, through the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, handed over to me a certificate of meritorious service. I am very proud of this, and I wish other colleagues will also be given similar treatment and privilege and opportunity when their time eventually comes.

Any regrets?
No, but to err is human and to forgive is divine. I, therefore, wish to use this medium to seek for forgiveness for my shortcomings while in the Service of our dear country, and to I sincerely appreciate and thank all and sundry, especially my family, friends and colleagues for their immeasurable support, prayers and cooperation I enjoyed while in the service of my fatherland.