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Over N500b stuck in unresolved federal audit reports

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President Muhammadu Buhari

About N500 billion has not been properly accounted for in the previous years’ report of the Auditor-General of the Federation, submitted to the National Assembly (NASS), due to a lack of enabling laws to compel and sanction Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) that ignore audit queries.
 
If the amounts are reconciled and made available under a functioning audit law, it is more than the budget of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, which is the biggest ministry.
 
But yesterday, civil society and professional groups at the Audit Reform Bill Advocacy Strategy meeting, in Abuja, renewed their plans to pursue the enactment of the much-sought Audit Bill, which has missed Presidential assent twice in the past 12 years.
 
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), with the support of the European Union, is leading the project on improving the effectiveness of the Federal Audit Process and Reforms, designed to achieve three key objectives, in line with international best practices.
 
These include the enactment of the Federal Audit Service Commission; build capacity of civil society and the media to demand and monitor compliance of MDAs with the Audit laws; and support the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, Public Accounts Committees and MDAs to improve practice.
 
The Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, at the opening of the meeting, said after the implementation of each budget cycle, it is the Auditor-General‘s duty to review whether Nigeria got value for money and whether the money was spent in accordance with appropriation, financial instructions and regulations, and public finance management laws.

“If you look at audit reports in previous years, you will see a whole lot of money running into billions of Naira, which have not been properly brought into accounts. So it is a weak part of the chain in public finance management, and unfortunately, despite the reforms going on, not much has been done in audit reforms.
 
“The cost of not passing the bill, given the Auditor-General’s report for previous years are now running in excess of N500 billion, which have not been brought to account,” he said.
 
Onyekpere noted that the bill will help the country plug-in those leaking pipes of corruption, and then moved up to the Public Accounts Committee in the NASS, with recommendations fully-implemented, will be recovering between N100 billion and N200 billion yearly, which presently are going into waste.
 
The Executive Director, Media Rights Advocacy, Edetaen Ojo, said the bill was introduced to the NASS as a private member’s bill, and went through legislative processes, including public hearing, passed by the lawmakers, but President Olusegun Obasanjo did not sign it before leaving office in 2007.

“During the first term of President Muhammdau Buhari, a fresh attempt was successful in getting the Audit Reform Bill passed by NASS again, and transmitted to him in February 2019 for assent, but he ignored it.
 
“A third attempt is now being planned to present the same bill to the ninth NASS for consideration, but the entire process would be starting from scratch. There is now the need to take a more strategic approach in advocacy to ensure legislative success and Presidential assent,” Ojo said.
 
However, Onyekpere said the issues are now recurring because it is not clear what happened in the eighth assembly, in which the bill was passed and duly forwarded to the President for assent, but he neither assented to it nor communicated to the Assembly his reasons for refusing to sign.
 
“This also creates the impression that somewhere along the line this bill must have fallen through the cracks. I do not want to believe that the President deliberately does not want to sign the bill, but somebody somewhere is causing the mischief by not drawing his attention to the bill, otherwise, I cannot understand why a President who is leading anti-corruption fight should not be interested in the Audit Bill.
 
“The law will reveal the leakages, so that tomorrow, nobody will go back to the same mistake or deliberate action. But in the case of Nigeria presently, after the 2012-2013 audit, the same problems that existed remained the same that is seen in 2016 to 2018 budget periods.
 
“It is a question of repeated felonies and misdemeanours, showing that we are not learning any lessons, but that is what the audit bill would do when passed into law.
 
“We don’t want that to happen again and now we want the lawmakers to have the time to pass the bill, send it to the President and where he is not assenting, he would have to give his reasons, allowing the NASS to have another chance to rethink it.
 
“There is no cost associated with the passage of the bill, as the office of the AGF already exists. The bill is only seeking to strengthen the powers of the office such that when queries are sent, sanctions will follow for non-compliance.
 
“If you cause a loss to the treasury, you will have to make good the loss and if you neglect your duties, you face sanctions. The auditor’s office is not politicized and if any government is looking for materials to do anti-corruption war, the office will have enough details from the professional accountants and auditors, who will look at how the money was spent,” he added.


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