House Grills Accountant General over N1.819tn Extra-budgetary Spending

Ahmed Idris

Udora Orizu in Abuja

The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, yesterday, quizzed the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Ahmed Idris, over extra-budgetary expenditure worth more than N1.819 trillion in 2014 fiscal year.

The lawmakers summoned both the AGF, and the Auditor General of the Federation, Mr. Anthony Ayine, after expressing dissatisfaction and rejecting the response provided by the AGF to various queries issued by the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation.

The breakdown of the extra-budgetary expenditure includes N54 billion borrowed fund for staff of PHCN in 2014 and N745.4 billion payment allegedly approved by President Goodluck Jonathan from the Natural Resources Fund account; N594.3 billion loan withdrawn from the Stabilisation Fund, which belonged to the three tiers of government.

It also include the sum of N73.5 billion paid in 2014, out of which N36.4 billion was released to the National Security Adviser (NSA) for rehabilitation and construction of dam; N31.3 billion paid to an account which a political appointee was a signatory and additional sum of N2.8 billion paid for purchase of hand sanitizers.

The House said it was not satisfied by the explanation of the Accountant General that the closing balance that was not returned to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation was not government money, but money belonging to other agencies such as unions and taxes meant for other states.

The auditor general queried the accountant general’s office over the sum of N200.9 billion deducted from Federal Government’s share of the Federation Account, out of the total sum of N797.9 billion reported in the 2014 financial statement that showed the variance of N52.7 billion.

Ahmed disclosed in his response to various audit queries issued by the Auditor General of the Federation in 2014 financial year that the N54 billion was borrowed fund for staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in 2014 for payment of staff pension.

He said: “For example, I know that when the issue ASUU occurred in the past and the government wanted to pay the outstanding allowances, they went and borrowed money from TETFUND. I am not saying the N54 billion was borrowed from pension money. But I want to assure the parliament that we will provide the source of that money and other information required from us.”

He told the committee that the delay in the passage of the national budget and extension of the capital budget beyond the financial year made it impossible for his office to prepare the financial statement of the government for audit as required by extant financial year.

He also said that the delay in getting transcript of accounts from various Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) occasioned by the attitude of staff from the MDAs or outright lack of capacity was also partly responsible for the delay in preparing government’s annual statement of accounts.

According to him, ‘’if there is no rendition of account from the MDAs, there is no way the account can be prepared. Sometimes, we threaten to withhold allocation to them before they send in their transcript and sometimes, we have to send our staff to assist them. But going forward, we are deploying ICT, which will now be used.’’

‘’The office is working on a draft law that will amend the existing law that will specify the period for the submission of annual financial statement to the auditor general. The draft law will soon be submitted to the National Assembly. The approval for the release of the N745 billion was for 23 special accounts, there was no specific request for approvals. Also the Police Reward Fund account, which was operational up to 2012, suddenly became dormant.’’

The committee resolved to summon the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), over the 10 per cent cocoa levy account, and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, over the Police Reward Fund which was dormant after 2012.

The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Wole Oke, said the parliament would have no option than to demand for the refund of the money if the accountant general failed to provide the authority letter from the former President.