Auditor-General indicts ministries, agencies over poor records, graft
Craves autonomy via Audit 2015 Bill
THE Federal Government’s fiscal 2013 audited account just concluded by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) has raised serious concerns about how Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) kept their financial books during the period.
The Auditor-General, therefore, wants the National Assembly to summon the indicted agencies to explain reasons for the poor financial records.
A director in the AGF’s office told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that the audited account is yet to be submitted to the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly as they are yet to be constituted.
Also, there are queries on the account, which would require the committees to seek answers to. Asked to shed light on the agencies indicted and the magnitude of their indictment, the auditor-general stressed that one sure way the Federal Government can reduce the quantum of graft within public life was for President Muhammadu Buhari to quickly assent to the Audit 2015 Bill passed recently by the National Assembly which is meant to grant the office of the auditor-general full autonomy and insulate it from the influences of the bureaucracy that it is meant to audit.
According to the Auditor-General: “Our work is being hampered, first because we are not on first line charge.
We depend on the same bureaucracy that we carry out financial interrogation on for releases of funds to do our job. Sometimes, these releases are delayed or don’t come at all and they hamper our activities. Again, we depend on the Federal Civil Service Commission for our members of staff’s needs. Sometimes, we don’t get the requisite needed manpower to execute our mandate.
That is why assent to this Bill is very important to us because it will grant us financial and establishment autonomy as we will thereafter be on first line charge and also be able to recruit, promote and discipline our own members of staff.
This will in no small measure enhance our efficiency as well as grant us the latitude to cover almost every MDA of government and curb the excesses of graft in public life which we are at the moment not able to do due to the limitations I just listed earlier.”
Commenting on the imperative and desirability for the need of the independence of the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko, who is the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and a former Federal Commissioner of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, attributed the large scale corruption in the country to lack of independence of the Office of the AGF, saying the law is even coming late.
He then advised President Buhari not to waste time but sign it into law without further delay. Onwubiko said: “Yes, this Bill ought to receive priority attention by President Muhammadu Buhari for the fundamental reason that it will formidably strengthen the institution of checks and balances in the accounting system of Nigeria and it will serve as effective mechanisms to check the severe/grave problem of corruption and economic crimes which has crippled our country.
It will also strengthen enforcement of procurement laws since the holder of that strategic office could find out how federally-disbursed funds are spent by ministries.”
He continued: “Interestingly, the dimension of the bill that makes more sense is the aspect that grants autonomy to the office of the Auditor-General for the Federation to shield them from the bureaucratic bottlenecks and stifling control of Federal Government officials.
But the problem we have is that even with the passage of bills that are revolutionary, the matter lies with the lack of capacity and the zeal to enforce these provisions and thereby cripple the workability of those institutions.
So, passing the bill into law and the approval through presidential approval isn’t the major concern but how committed will the enforcement of those independent clauses be by the operators? Nigerians hardly adapt to new anti-graft regime, which the new bill is set to activate should it be approved or assented to. Therefore, there has to be law and order without which granting more powers will simply create a tiger who will not be tamed.
Whilst we support the bill to become law as rapidly as possible, we do also appeal that a lot of measures be put in place to ensure the effective workability of the new law so that the important institutional frame-works of checks and balances in the administration of public accounts and finances are done.
“For example, the National Human Rights Commission has for over two years been empowered with funding independence and operational independence but the operators of that agency still run it in a business as usual fashion and most Nigerians whose rights are violated are complaining that the rights violation resolution mechanisms are still too slow and the officials are still not professionally competent to drive the process in line with the new powers conceded to the agency by the recent amendments and passage of the enabling law.
So, the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, if granted autonomy, must be led by competent and non-corruptible professionals who would discharge their functions without fear of being blackmailed because of some hidden crimes.”
In the same vein, a development economist and public commentator, Mr. Odilim Enwegbara, supported the President assenting to the Bill but called for a careful scrutiny so as to avert the creation of too many independent institutions that the President may not be able to control.
Enwegbara said: “For caution sake, I think that President Buhari should not rush to sign the bill without first evaluating the level of independence given to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation and the damage such independence could cause the economy.
Given that we operate in a highly democratic system where the activities of unelected so-called bureaucrats should from time to time be subjected to necessary oversight by both the Presidency and other oversight agencies of the government.
“So, my advice is that President Buhari should subject the bill to a careful scrutiny seeking technical and legal advice from those who should know better about what should be the consequences of such over-bloated independence handed to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation who may not necessarily always be apolitical in his day-to-day decision-making process.”