Nigeria’s problem is bloated governance, bureaucracy, says ICAN
Rotimi Omotoso is the Registrar and Chief Executive, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. In this interview with BENJAMIN ALADE, he spoke about how the economy can be revamped, proffered solutions and reminisced on its 46th yearly conference.
Is the government doing its best in managing current recession?
To be frank, what Nigerians want are results, we don’t want baby steps, we want bold steps; bold and courageous leadership. I believe the government is doing a few things that are good. Firstly, it is the deregulation of the exchange market whereby it is what you buy, you sell, and you don’t have minimisation of the dual currency market, whereby the black market is being merged with the official market, so that we don’t have under the carpet transaction. Secondly is the deregulation of the downstream oil market whereby the subsidy that is already being expended on importation of fuel and agro allied products are being channelled into more productive sectors.
Thirdly is the recovery of funds from many individuals according to government; it is the information they have given us, we have not audited what they have said, but we hear what they say and the people have not denied it. I believe those three steps; especially the recovery of public funds stolen from the country’s wealth is in the right direction. The foreign exchange market that is being deregulated that we don’t have multiplicity of exchange rates is a good thing, and the oil sector where we don’t have to expend so much of our money on subsidising on importation of fuel that is never available, we also believe that is well but we are not there yet, the government is not there yet. There is still a lot to be done, we need more transparency in financial accounting and reporting; we need timely information from the government and we need action.
Good record keeping is not only a public sector problem, it’s also in the private sector, how do we guard against padding?
The first thing we would have told the government is, ‘Accountability now Nigeria’, is part of the accountability, which is the global initiative of the International Federation of Accountants and its global partners to enhance quality financial reporting, to encourage transparency. The government as we believe are doing what they need to do, but we don’t have efficient transparency for us to measure what the government is doing. We need transparency, we need high quality financial reporting, and we need compliance with international accounting standards, which is generally known in government. The International Public Sector Accounting Standards, we want the government to move from where they are presently, which is cash based financial reporting to what is called, acquired based financial reporting, which is used in the private sector. That is why we are encouraging the government to move towards what we call the International Public Sector Accounting Standards and that is the base of what accountability is doing to its partners.
Given the nature of the Nigerian economy and the problem of corruption, do you think we can achieve the International Public Sector Accounting Standard?
I think the government is taking some baby steps and those baby steps are becoming more clear now, and I believe/think we can achieve it together with ICAN, Accountant General Office, with the States Accountant Generals, Auditors General together with the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, supported by the Minister of Finance, we believe we would be able to achieve this. I believe the government is serious and I think we would do it.
What should be the role of accountants in managing through recession?
High quality financial reporting, high quality financial accounting holding government accountable, sound internal control to prevent fraud, waste and abuse, those three things are the cardinal requirement for accountability. Solid accounting financial process based on international accounting standard, solid financial reporting based on international standard, transparency of financial reporting, and timely financial reporting.
Accounting is all about numbers, yet some analysts believe our negative GDP growth of -2.07 is much worse than government calculated. What do you think?
According to statistics it is correct. What is important is that we are in recession, some people have even said, which I agreed, we are more than in recession. We are in depression. But I can assure you, we would get out of it. There is no doubt we are in recession, and we are moving towards depression. To get out of it, we must be optimistic; we must all put our hands together and our thinking cap. We must live within our means both in
our various domestic households and in governance. I’m glad to hear that President Muhammadu Buhari is selling two aircraft out of the fleet of about 10, which appears to be the second largest fleet after Arik Air in Nigeria, and probably the largest fleet of any government in Africa. I’m glad the President is taking such steps, we don’t need 10 aircraft and I’m also glad that they are going to review the rest of the aircraft in the fleet to look at the ones that would be given to the Nigerian Air Force.
Does that mean you support the sale of national assets?
I’m not supporting the sale of national assets. Those (aircraft) are not national assets. I’m supporting the sale of surplus of unnecessary assets that are waste constituting drains in the country like aircraft in the presidential fleet. I’m not supporting that you should sell your good assets that are contributing to the wealth of the nation, but if you don’t need 10 pairs of shoes, get rid of two. I’m supporting getting rid of excess non-productive assets not productive.
Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas plant (NLNG) for example is generating income; that is not where our problem is. Our problem is bloated governance, bloated legislature and executive both at the federal and the state levels, bloated bureaucracy, unnecessary spending. Everybody wants to buy made in UK, all of us need to look inwards; we need to develop exports, production for export, we cannot continue to build a mono product economy. We need to diversify and move from the only commodity we have to export, which is petroleum. We need to go back to the basics, farming. We need to go back to let our children understand the unused potetials in our natural resources.
Do you think the government is trailing the path of looking inward?
I believe so from what we read and what we are being told and in the few of the actions that we see, government needs to continue in that direction. They need to create enabling environment for small businesses to grow, infrastructure – roads, uninterruptable power supply.
You cannot be a small business owner without infrastructure especially power. Government must continue to put resources in the productive areas.
What is the purpose of the 46th annual conference and how can the conference help get Nigeria out of recession?
The purpose for the conference is based on accountability and good governance. That is the challenge that we face as a country. We have heard from President Muhammadu Buhari, Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, and the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, on the information of mismanagement and diversion of public funds, of misreporting and budget padding because that is part of financial reporting. The conference is focusing on accountability and good governance. What do we need to do as a country to get it right? If you can count it, you can manage it. If you can report it, you can manage it. If you don’t know the basis, you can’t manage it.
Looking at the theme, ‘Accountability now Nigeria’, what are the steps you have taken in terms of intervention in achieving accountability in government?
The first thing that we have always done with government is to produce credible, knowledgeable, world-class chartered accountants. We have been
doing that with the government since 1965, producing chartered accountants. We have also been helping the government in developing strategies for managing the annual budget. Every year, we meet with the government to organise a seminar to bring people together to generate ideas on what goes into the budget and how the national budget is being implemented; we do that on regularly basis and of course this week is our conference. We bring put money down to invite resource persons all over the world to the country and discuss a theme that we believe is peculiar to the country. ‘Accountability now Nigeria’, cannot be more urgent.
We are bringing people from India and America. The President of Federation of Accountants is coming; the immediate past president of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy is coming from United Kingdom.
Also our brilliant guys from Nigeria coming for the conference – DG of NSE, Minister of Finance, Governors of Lagos and Ogun states and many other individuals that are coming to grace the occasion, and we brainstorm together. We are going to come out with a communiqué. The communiqué is
not something that we would put on the shelf; we would share it with the government that this is what people are saying. This is what we need to do to get out of the woods, this is what we need to get out of recession, and this is what we need to be accountable to our people and citizens.
Are there irregularities in the system?
If I’m to believe what the President of Nigeria says and I believe him, there are irregularities. He has come out to say there are irregularities. The Minister of Finance and EFCC said there are irregularities here and there in the country. Not that the accountants are not doing their jobs, but people are not being accountable. People deliberately ignored what they needed to do to be held accountable. The Institute knows there are issues, government has confirmed it. So what we are doing by accountability is first to build coalition to bring together organisations that support the objective of improving transparency and accountability in the public sector. Without coalition, you can’t do it. Nobody can do it alone. IMF, World Bank, bilateral
organisations, all across the world and that is why we are bringing people all over the world to discuss with us. We want to share experience, we want to benchmark, we want to see what other people are doing, we want to know what is wrong with our system and come out with a communiqué that we would present to government and chart out implementation plan.
We also want to raise awareness apart from building coalition. If you don’t say here I am, nobody would say there you are. Ignorance is a common problem. People don’t know what International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS) is; people don’t know the way to report cash received from
government in terms of budget; people don’t know that they are not supposed to add to national budget without approval; people don’t know that they are to lodge receipt into the single currency account. So we want to create awareness, we want people to know what is called IPSAS, which requires that there are standards, which must be followed, in financial reporting. We also want to develop partnership with people. This is why ICAN has partnership with Chartered Institute Public Finance and Accounting.
We are a foundation member of International Federation of Accountants, member of Pan-African Federation of Accountants, and foundation member of Accountancy Body in West Africa. We collaborate with the Ministry of Finance; we co-managed the federal treasury account academy, which is Nigeria’s treasury academy where they train civil servants with ICAN. The Accountant General Office with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance in Accountancy in the UK (CFA) together with ICAN collaborates with the Accountant General Office to train public servants at the Federal Treasury Academy through the partnership.
Finally, we build capacity. If you look at the publication we had, it is about training people because things are constantly changing. The accountancy of 1965 is different from 2016. What we used to test then is different from what we are testing now. What people need to know, the capacity we need to build now is different from what was built then, and that is why we are constantly building the capacity of our members,
government and of every individual that is connected with the accountancy pipeline.
What is the specialty to look out for at the 46th conference; is there a sustainability scheme?
There would be follow up programmes, there is sustainability. Our conference is a fall out of our strategic plan in ICAN. There is also a five-year strategic plan, which we will communicate with the government that we know has been issued and follow through.
Last year we had a conference because it is part of building awareness and partnership. We must continue to talk, we must continue to discuss, and we must continue to build capacity. Every individual that comes for the conference are still going to go through the ICAN continuous professional
education programme. We are still going to present our communiqué together with the implementation plan.
All of us, individually and collectively are part of the government and governance and we must continue to help the government to meet its goals.
We are going to meet with the Accountant General and Minister of Finance to chart how to implement each and every recommendation that has been put
forward to government.
What should attendees be expecting from the conference?
First, they should follow up with the conference online and all other media channels and hold us accountable. We are willing and ready to tell them what we have done; we share what we have given to the government in terms of budget advice and financial reporting advice. What we have put together is not because we receive subvention from government, this is our own resource from the subscription of our members, flying resource persons into Nigeria to discuss about the future of the country and to recommend workable, implementable government. We are funding ourselves; it is because accountancy is all about acting in the public interest that is what separates us from the others.
As a member of ICAN, the difference between you and the unchartered is that you are under obligations to act in the public interest. Part of our responsibility to act in the public interest is to organise the conference in the interest of our nation. We cannot fly blind, we must have a roadmap and that is what we are doing. We are looking to create a roadmap for government in form of a communiqué that will come out at the end of the conference. We are going to present this to the President of the nation, Minister of Finance and every other individual that is positively
associated with the government like the Accountant General.