Ministries of Information, Police, others fail to account for public funds – Senate

About seven Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have refused to appear before the Senate Public Accounts Committee to account for public funds at their disposal.

They include Ministries of Information, Police, Health and the Federal Fire Service.

Others are Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Management (NIMASA), Nigeria Police Force and Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria.

This was contained in the annual report of the Auditor-General for the Federation on the accounts of the Federation for 2015.

The report was submitted by the committee and was considered by the Senate on Wednesday.

The defaulting MDAs are part of the 114 MDAs queried by the Auditor-General of the Federation for incessant violation of extant rules, some of which include non-retirement of personal advances within a financial year and grant of cash advances above approved limit.

Other violations include uncooperative attitude towards auditors and extra-budgetary expenditure without the National Assembly’s approval.

In the report, the committee noted that of the 114 MDAs queried by the Auditor-General, 84 made submissions and appeared before the panel to defend the queries raised.

21 MDAs sent in written responses but did not appear before the panel.

The seven MDAs that failed to appear before the committee also refused to send written responses to the queries raised against them.

Chairman of the committee, Matthew Urhoghide, who presented the report, said the panel discovered that there was “consistent contravention of relevant Constitutional provisions and other Extant Laws by the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.”

He said the late submission of annual financial statements is a violation of Section 49(1) and (2) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007 and Section 85 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He further disclosed that there were withdrawals of funds by the Executive Arm from Special Fund Accounts for purposes other than the objectives the funds were created, and without recourse to the National Assembly for authourisation – contrary to Section 80(4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

There was absence of collaboration among the two key agencies involved in the management and superintending over of public funds – office of the Auditor-General and the Office of the Accountant-General and the lack of cooperation between both offices poses a barrier to efficient, effective and transparent audit process of the nation’s Federation Account, he added.

The lawmaker, therefore, underscored the need to pass the Audit Service Bill into law, to strengthen and streamline the audit process with a view to ensuring prudence in public finance and transactions.

In his remarks, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, said the Senate will publish the names of government agencies that have refused to appear before the panel to account for public funds.

Any public official, he said, that refuses to account for public funds at their disposal must be shown the way out of office.

“This is one of our major responsibilities as a parliament, to hold the executive to account. Whoever is given the responsibility and the trust of running any agency with public funds must be accountable to the parliament on behalf of the people.

“You have indicated a certain number of MDAs who failed to come to the committee after invitation, I want you to go through your documents – the invitation letters with reminders. This Senate will publish the names of these agencies for the public to know.

“This Senate will insist, any public servant or civil servant that is given public funds for public good and has questions to answer and refuse to appear to answer, should have no business being in government. Because all of us are supposed to be accountable to the people and, therefore, if someone feels that he is not going to be accountable, then that person has no business remaining in office,” he said.

While he commended MDAs that appeared before the panel and those that responded to their queries, Mr Lawan lamented that many agencies have refused to comply with accounting systems put in place by the office of the Accountant-General.

This, he said, is largely responsible for fraudulent transactions by some MDAs.

He, therefore, tasked the Public Accounts Committee to ensure that agencies of government comply with the accounting systems and procedures specified by the office of the Accountant-General.

“…Most of the agencies of government do not adhere to the established accounting mechanisms that will ensure accountability and transparency sent to them by the office of the Accountant-General. We should go ahead and check the accounting systems established in most of these agencies.

“In my experience, there was an agency of the government in 2005 or 2006 that spent N1 billion naira on what they called welfare. And that is to tell you that there is no system to stop this kind of thing. So, we should go ahead…and look at the systems they follow so that we stop people from doing the wrong things before we start to look for a remedy.”

He added that the chamber would consider the eventual recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee after it comes up with a document that neatly outlines and summarises them for consideration.

“The report needs our study, just like most of our colleagues said, let’s read it and then come back to look at the recommendations.

“But, I’ll also suggest that you should have all the recommendations in one place, because it is the recommendations that we will consider, instead of going through all the documents before we pass the recommendations. We should have the recommendations summarised.”

After considering the report of the committee, the Senate suspended adoption of the recommendations pending when the committee summarises its recommendations to the Senate.

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