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Tackling corruption, infrastructure-induced economic crisis, by ANAN, experts

By Chijioke Nelson   |   19 October 2016   |   3:13 am
Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation

Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation

Nigeria’s development challenges have long been aggregated to the twin issues of corruption and infrastructure. It has even been reported in every aspect of national endeavours. Of course, amounts worth in trillions have actually been wasted.

A minister in the current administration had told The Guardian recently that Nigeria’s financial books are replete with “ridiculous” projects- quotations, loose borrowings, unfinished projects, contract awards and at the end, non-implementation of near full-paid projects. “It has been ongoing before now,” the minister added.

The unsavoury development has also impacted the country’s “stock” of infrastructure. That is, the state of power, roads, education, healthcare system and investments in oil and gas are sordid tales. The evidence has been manifest in the nearly 28-month crude oil price crisis and inquest into public finance management by the present government.

Having gone past admittance of corruption charges and global notoriety for the self-inflicted economic woes, accountants and stakeholders are charting a new course for revival, rediscovery and growth of the country.

First, the government solicited the support of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN) and its affiliated professionals in the fight against corruption in the country, assuring that ongoing efforts are not about retribution and meting out punishment.
President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by the Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Ahmed Idris, said: “I urge you to join in the current fight against corruption and be professionally at forefront in our quest for efficient public finance management and real economic growth. It is about getting back looted funds for our economic recovery and growth.

“Systemic fraud needs to be checked and accountants should have the first line of detection through systems and processes. The objective is not just to stem corruption but to execute an economic plan to channel those resources into much-needed areas that will support and reposition the economy.”

Lauding the conference theme- “Nigeria’s Economic Management: Accountant’s Perspective”, he said: “While we are regaled with and shocked by details of amounts stolen, diverted or wasted, we must face the cold reality that such acts are facilitated by weaknesses in our systems.

“We will no longer measure performance by the size of our budget or the amount disbursed. We must measure the budget by its impact on the lives of Nigerians,” he said.

He pointed out that the on-going audits on revenue remittance by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) had identified significant cases of non-compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

“The TSA initiative has proved its worth in the sense that we have significantly blocked leakages in the system; considerably reduced cost of borrowing by MDAs; and above all, improved inflow of revenue to government.

“We are refocusing savings from recurrent expenditures on capital projects. So far, we have released over N700 billion in capital. We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our salary bill is already going down and our recurrent expenditure is far more controlled than it was,” he added.

But the President of ANAN, Anthony Nzom, advised the Federal Government to ensure that the recovered looted funds are effectively redistributed to all sectors of the economy and citizenry to alleviate economic hardship.

Making the charge at the opening of the 21st yearly conference of Certified National Accountants, he noted that the redistribution of looted funds would not only alleviate the current economic hardship, but prove Federal Government’s strides in tackling the abuse of public office.

“The economic realities of the present time calls for critical evaluation of the past and present, as means of pursuing future goals and aspirations to create a sustainable economic pathways for a developing nation like ours.

“That is why in our official capacity as professional accountants, we are converging to rub minds and contribute to the discourse on how the nation can get out of the economic recessions,’’ Nzom said.

But Prof. Esosa Bob-Osaze, reiterated that the economy is in deep trouble as evidenced by the inability of two thirds of our state government to honour monthly emoluments as and when due.

“There is shortage of foreign exchange-driven Jet-A1 fuel for domestic and international airlines and drop in Nigeria’s foreign reserves to below $25 billion, which is barely enough to pay for six months imports,” he said.
Besides, the accounting body has asked government to increase spending on infrastructure development to stimulate the economy.

Taiwo Oyedele

Taiwo Oyedele

In a communique issued at the end of the conference, ANAN also said infrastructure development should be carried out “rather than tie money down at the Central Bank of Nigeria in the name of savings through the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

Participants said that to get the Nigerian economy out of the present predicament, government should ensure speedy recovery of the ailing economy, foster growth and sustainability.

“New mechanism for whistle blowing should be incorporated into legislation, and Codes of Conduct for agencies and corporations, while anti-corruption agencies should be strengthened for effective performance.

“Lack of political will, poor infrastructure, policy inconsistency in Nigeria, insufficient skilled labour, insecurity in some parts of the nation, inadequate access to capital, foreign restrictions and multiple taxation are key challenges to diversification,’’ the communique said.

As a way to tackle corruption and make more funds available for infrastructure development, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should be compelled to declare their revenues and expenditures in their published accounts not later than three months into the New Year.

Prof. Nasiru Yauri of the Faculty of Management Sciences, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto State, who said this, noted said that the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) brace up to its responsibilities.

In a paper entitled: “The Fiscal Crisis and Management of Budget Deficits in Nigeria,’’ he specifically listed MDAs like the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd. (NLNG).

“Recently, the erstwhile Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Emir of Kano claimed that about $20 billion was missing from Nigeria’s oil revenue. The amount, part of the $67 billion worth of crude oil shipped by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) between January 2012 and July 2013, was not remitted to the Federation Account.

“A report submitted to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation in 2015 by Price Waterhouse Coopers confirmed that $18.5 billion dollars in oil revenue was missing,’’ the don said.

At various times, similar allegations have been proffered against high-revenue yielding agencies.
According to him, high-flying and huge revenue generators like the NNPC, NCS, NIMASA, Bureau of Public Entreprises (BPE), Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NRC), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), and Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), spent three years without remitting a kobo to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).

“Importantly, the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by the current government should be sustained. All MDAs should be made to comply and appropriate sanctions meted on defaulting MDAs.

According to him, Nigeria’s budget crisis is reflected in the country’s perpetual failure in budget implementation, largely explaining why the country has expended huge amounts of money, running into trillions of Naira, but has remained unable to record the desired level of economic growth and development.

A tax consultant, Taiwo Oyedele, in a paper entitled: “Diversification As A Strategy For Sustainability,” unveiled key challenges to the nation’s diversification.

According to him, the challenges are multiple taxation, foreign exchange restriction, poor quality products, tough business environment and insufficient skilled labour.

Still, he mentioned poor infrastructure, policy inconsistency, double-digit inflation, lack of access to capital, lack of political will and insecurity in some parts of the country.

Oyedele however, suggested a clear policy direction, coordinated communication, more engagement with stakeholders and creation of solutions, as strategies to the challenges.

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