National Assembly rejigs nation’s audit structure in anti-corruption fight
• Passes Audit Services Bill, grants autonomy to auditor general
• Senate upset over Nigeria’s looming expulsion from global body
• Blames Reps for lack of legislative consensus on issue
The National Assembly yesterday passed the Federal Audit Services Bill, which grants autonomy to the auditor general of the federation.
The “landmark achievement in the fight against corruption,” according to Senate President Bukola Saraki, would give the office of the auditor general unfettered access to the books of agencies and parastatals.
“This law will bring accountability and probity in the finances of the government and the fight against corruption,” he said.
The Senate and the House of Representatives adopted the conference report on the bill and consequently separated the auditor general’s office from the Ministry of Finance.
“We truly have to block all the various leakages. We also have to ensure that we get this to Mr. President to get his assent,” Saraki said.
Commending the members of both chambers for the landmark, he noted: “We have gone a long way in this administration in our fight against corruption, and it is commendable that the National Assembly members are the sponsors and movers of this very important bill. We will continue to play our part in this fight against corruption for the sake of our country.”
The bill expanded the powers of the auditor general to carry out audit, except when the constitution provides otherwise, of all revenues accruing to the federation and all expenditures of the federation from all sources.
The auditor general will also carry out audit, except otherwise provided by the constitution, of donations, grants and loans accruable to federal ministries, departments and agencies or other public entities.
He will audit classified expenditure and perform forensic audits. Others are: the audit of international institutions to the extent of Nigeria’s contribution to such bodies; the audit of disaster-related grants and aids; the audit of public-private partnership entered into by the Federal Government and its agencies.
The National Assembly specifically empowered the auditor general to: select the methodology to be adopted in respect of an audit; determine the nature and extent of audit to be carried out and request details, account statements and financial statements that he considers necessary; request in writing, any person in the employ of federal ministries, departments and agencies and international institutions whose accounts are being audited by the office of the auditor general to make an appearance at a specified place and time, or produce such records, books, vouchers and documents under the control of that person.
He is likewise tasked with investigating and making extracts from any record, book, document and other information of federal ministries, departments and agencies or international institutions whose accounts are being audited by the office of the auditor general, and surcharging the amount of any expenditure which has not been duly brought into account or the amount of any loss or deficiency incurred.
The Senate, meanwhile, expressed concern over the threat to expel Nigeria from the Egmont Group of over a hundred countries that share financial intelligence, stressing that the development would be disastrous for the nation’s economy.
The upper chamber’s committee on anti-corruption and financial crimes pointed out that the group could expel Nigeria next week because a bill to make the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) an independent entity has not been passed.
Saraki expressed shock that the two chambers had not harmonised their differences on the bill. “This matter has been discussed at the leadership level and a conference committee was set up. I am surprised that this meeting has not taken place,” he said.
The Senate president promised to meet with the speaker of the House of Representatives and remind him of the decision taken, “so that he (the speaker) can direct the chairman in the House of Representatives on this.”
He told the committee: “Both of you will work on it as fast as you can, so that we can transmit this bill to the president before the next Egmont meeting, in order to save this country. We will take action.”
The chairman of the committee, Chukwuka Utazi, reminded his colleagues that the deadline given to Nigeria expires March 2018.
He said: “In July, last year, Nigeria was suspended by the Egmont Group, with a threat to expel the country on March 11, this year, which is next week. If we do not put our house in order, we will be expelled.”
He warned: “The expulsion will come with severe consequences. Our financial banks will not be able to do anything. Our banks and foreign transactions will no longer amount to anything. We will be degraded. Even the corruption index we are complaining about will be a child’s play to what we are going to face in few days.”
Absolving the Senate, however, of blame on the delay, he said: “I have been calling my counterpart in the House of Representatives. The first meeting was stalled. They said the leadership was meeting over the issue. We called for another meeting. Each time I call for this meeting, my counterpart in the House of Representatives will always tell me that he is attending one meeting or another. Even this morning (yesterday), I sent him a message and he said he was attending a budget defence meeting. I told him that this meeting was more important. He knows what is at stake.
“I am bringing this issue to public knowledge that this Senate is doing its job. If anything should happen or Nigeria is suspended, it will not be as a result of the failure of the Senate to act.”
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