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Auditor-general’s indictment of presidency and MDAs

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Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/ASOROCK

The Auditor-General of the Federation’s audit report, which indicted President Muhammadu Buhari’s government on financial matters is certainly significant in many ways.

According to a report, most Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) were found to have been involved in financial wrongdoings despite the government’s avowed anti-corruption stand and campaign. Coming from no less an office than that of the Auditor-General of the Federation, there is every reason for Nigerians to be worried about the fidelity and health of the country’s fiscal system.
 
There is also the need to be concerned about the feasibility of the government’s anti-graft management model. This is instructive especially given the various types and numbers of the infractions and non-compliances with financial regulations that were highlighted to have taken place under the watchful eyes of the senior public servants and indeed loud anti-corruption crusaders.

 
Some examples that obviously brought down the indictment harmer on the government include the revelation that officials of the government were involved in multi-faceted financial malpractices of not remitting collected deductions to the tune of N3.79 billion; the existence of doubtful cash balance of over N315 billion; non-retirement of overdue Personal Advances of N4.87 billion as at December 31, 2016 as well as Cash Advances totalling N343.7 million as at October 2016. Even, an N60.39 million, reported to have been used for the purchase of estacode and air tickets for some officials was without supporting documents, again, contrary to financial regulations.
 
Aside from the highlighted problems, there is no doubt that having the government’s financial affairs unaudited and non-submission of relevant audit reports to the appropriate authorities, is not just a serious breach of regulatory and professional provisions but an unhealthy, unacceptable and dangerous practice. And these have been irregularities in the federal public service.
 
According to the Auditor-General (AG), audited accounts of most MDAs were also in many years’ arrears, which should be unacceptable by all standards. Besides audit reports being in arrears, a few government institutions and organs didn’t bother to audit their accounts and submit the reports. For instance, of the many government institutions, only 149  and 51 submitted their audited accounts for the years 2015 and 2016, respectively to the Office of the Auditor-General as of December 27, 2017. Furthermore, as many as 148 and 215 government institutions defaulted in submitting their audited accounts in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
 
But the most worrisome and of course, scandalous among the developments in the Federal Government’s financial affairs is that as in April 2018, 109 agencies had not submitted their audited accounts beyond the year 2013; 76 last submitted for the 2010 financial year while 65 never submitted any account since inception. 
 
What can be worse than these, especially under an anti-corruption driven government? It is very unfortunate that this is the report card of the Federal Government notwithstanding provisions of Financial Regulation 3210(v), which requires government agencies to submit their Audited Accounts and Management Reports to the Auditor-General (AG) not later than May 31 of the following accounting year.
 
The foregoing anomalous financial activities within the government, among many others revealed by the auditor-general, are recommended for further inquiries on the financial state and health of the country. This is necessary as it is foreseeable that the AG might not have made public all the financial malfeasance and audit queries observed during the audit. Some degree of caution and restraint might have been exercised to save the faces of the government and its anti-corruption pretenders.
 
One thing that must grieve the heart of the nation, with President Buhari leading, is the fact that fingers of financial improprieties were pointed at such prime organs of government as the Presidency, Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, the National Assembly (House of Representatives) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). One can only imagine the direct and indirect implications of an accuser becoming the accused.
 
In not too many words, the revelations by the AG are more than enough to believe that the country has been passing through a high degree of financial rascality, irresponsibility, incompetence, and impunity. These manifestations must be attributed to a multiplicity of factors including lack of effective oversight, internal control, accountability, and responsibility. There are also the issues of financial indiscipline, fiscal governance failure and conscious or deliberate decisions to violate and make nonsense of established financial standards, guides, rules and regulations.

In fact, these problems exist calls to serious questions about the existence of sanctions and their dutiful and diligent enforcement against poor performance in government establishments. It is disheartening that this magnitude of financial mismanagement is going on despite the anti-corruption policy of the current administration.
 
Therefore, the chief executive of the federation should be deeply concerned about this development. The presidency should use the policy support instrument in the bureaucracy of his office, notably the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to mandate all government institutions and organs to update their financial affairs within a given time frame failing which they must be subjected to serious sanctions.
 
Second, the need for a total reform of the government’s financial system including laws, processes, procedures, administration, and management, has become apparent. The country expects nothing less from the president to redeem and to prevent further and perhaps, most unpalatable indictments from the Auditor-General of the Federation.
 
Meanwhile, the irregularities and failure of governance in this regard should be blamed on the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly. It is their constitutional responsibility to ensure that public accounts are up-to-date. There is, therefore, a sense in which it can be said that the Public Accounts Committees conventionally headed by members of the minority party or opposition actually failed the nation, in this regard. The law mandates them to hold a public hearing on audit reports as submitted by the office of the Auditor General of the Federation. When last did the Public Accounts Committee carry out this constitutional duty?


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