THE ‘MISSING’ BILLIONS IN MDAS

0

The compromised agencies should be held to account

The essence of audit is to determine whether financial reports are fairly stated or breach accepted standards. The purpose is to make those accountable to accept responsibility. The 2017 Report of the Auditor-General of the Federation revealed large-scale infractions and lapses in the management of public funds by the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government. A combination of weak and compromised institutions has allowed the culture of impunity to thrive. Sadly, there are no consequences.

The report, submitted since April last year, has added to the public cynicism among Nigerians and organised labour about the propriety and intention of the current administration’s anti-graft war. Last week, a civil right group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged President Muhammadu Buhari to compel the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and the anti-graft agencies, to investigate the reported N300 billion missing or stolen funds as documented in the auditor-general’s report. “We urge you,” wrote SERAP “to take meaningful and effective measures to clean up an apparently entrenched system of corruption in these MDAs. The 2017 audited report reveals grim allegations of mismanagement, diversion and stealing of public funds, as well as unaccounted-for spending. The report suggests a grave violation of the public trust….”

The widespread violations documented in the report range from irregular expenditures to failure to surrender surplus revenues to the treasury, all running into billions of naira. There were also unauthorised deductions from money due to the federation account by revenue collecting agencies, irregularities in payment and expenditure, irregularities in contract award and execution. Others include unretired loans and advances, inadequate disclosure of aids and grants, unreconciled cash and cash equivalents and more. The report noted significant weaknesses in expenditure control, accounting, financial reporting and in the completeness and accuracy of the consolidated financial statements. Even more frustrating, previously identified lapses have not been adequately addressed leading to a situation of repeated violations. For instance, the executive summary of the report noted that 160 agencies defaulted in submission of audited accounts for 2016. But the number of defaulting agencies increased to 265 in 2017 while 11 agencies have never bordered to submit any financial statements since inception. Yet they have continued to receive appropriations from the National Assembly.

For instance, contrary to Section 162 of the Constitution which states that “the Federation shall maintain a special account to be called ‘the Federation Account into which shall be paid all revenues collected by the Government of the Federation,” the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recorded revenue in the sum of N2.407.7tn; on its own deducted N1.332.07tn and remitted only N1.075.62tn to the federation account. In the same vein, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) failed to remit N2.297bn of the Internally Generated Revenue to the treasury.

Thus the compelling questions on the lips of many are: why does the president need any further prompting to institute a probe into these grave allegations of fraud? When will we operate a government of laws? Why should overpaid individuals and groups in the public sector continue to fleece the nation and yet walk the streets freely? Why has the government shirked its responsibility to hold to accounts individuals and groups who undermined the system and abused public trust? And why has the National Assembly failed to rise to the occasion by properly carrying out their responsibility of oversight? Or are they complicit?

Increasingly, there are mounting instances of tardiness in taking prompt decisions on issues of transparency and accountability in public office and institutions of government. We demand a better and swift scrutiny of our public officials and institutions implicated in corruption. That is the only way the unscrupulous ones among them can be held to account.