Promoting corruption through failure of public auditing systems

By Malachy Uzendu

It is stated clearly in paragraph 1709 of the nation’s Financial Regulations, that Accountants and Auditors have a sacrosanct and mandatory duties to perform. The law insists that person’s employed as an Accountant must not at any time cross over to become an Auditor, and vice versa.

Another very pertinent issue that could be distilled from the references Financial Regulation is that it is a criminal offence for accountants or auditors to engage in acts that are inimical to the financial well-being of the nation or the institution where they have been posted to work. Specifically, auditors were said to be staff of the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, just as accountants working in any federal establishment (be it ministry, department or agency) are staff of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. They are all mandated to report financial infractions immediately it occurs to their boses, the Auditor-General of the Federation or the Accountant-General of the Federation, as the case may be.

However, it has been noticed that this particular mandatory requirement are frequently kept in the breach. In fact, all the issues bothering on financial infraction occur mainly because the accountants and auditors in our public institutions have persistently failed to perform their statutory duties. They chose to breach the demands of their professional ethos and vote for their pockets and no anti-graft agency have brought them to account. And so, we usually have situations where CEOs are found to have stolen humongouos amounts of money at the end of their tenure, yet none of those CEOs went to the bank to make withdrawals, or prepared the voucher or wrote the cheque with which such acts of financial sleaze got perfected.

No wonder public institutions from the local government to the state and federal government are replete with nauseating issues of corruption, with accountants and auditors comfortably shielded from the prying eyes. Every year, we hear of embezzlement or petitions by individuals (who are mainly in actual fact, aggrieved parties to such illicit transactions, who feel cheated in deals gone awry). These people mainly send petitions to the anti-graft agencies or Public Petition Committees of the National Assembly (mind you, nobody is interested in such committees at the state level because the state assemblies are seen as an appendage of the respective state governors and are toothless).

Just recently, the Senate Public Accounts Committee accosted some heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the federal government, with audit queries from the Auditor-General of the Federation, standing against their agencies several years back. Chairman of the committee, Sen. Matthew Urhoghide, at a meeting with MDAs arising from the Auditor General of the Federation’s 2015-2018 Report which are before the committee, frowned at the lethargy with which such heads of MDAs have treated audit queries and issues of auditing generally.

During the meeting, 14 agencies were invited including the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Pipelines Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria National Corporation (NNPC), Debt Management Office (DMO), National Pension Commission, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Head of Service of the Federation and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

From the above list, it could be gleaned that virtually all the so-called grade ‘A’ agencies, where huge amount of money rolls in and out, were listed. There is no way the heads of these agencies would claim they are not aware of the existence of the audit queries until their attention was drawn to such by the National Assembly.

But the issues brings to the fore the questions posed by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, during the launch of a book “My Life as a Spy”, written by the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, recently. Kukah was emphatic when he stated that “Corruption has become so endemic that in Nigeria, it is the only thing that works”.

He had asked the following quesrions: “How do you fight corruption? Who and where is corruption sitting or standing? What tools do you use to fight corruption? How will we know when corruption has been killed? What will its body look like and who will officiate at the funeral of corruption? In other words, will the high priests of the funeral of corruption be those who have wined and dined with it or those who have washed the garments in purity?” Of course, after Bishop Kukah, whose statements were delivered by Very Rev. Fr. Patrick Alumuku, the Director of Social Communications of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, delivered what was considered as bombshell, he unsettled Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, who did not wait for another occasion to attempt gleefully to extricate his boss from the mire of corruption. And that’s the problem.

Truth is that exept our parastatals and agencies allow Auditors and Accountants to perform their statutory duties as it ought to be, there cannot be transparency in the land. We must keep to the letters of section 1709 of the Financial Regulations if the government and indeed Nigerians are desirous of wedging truthful war on corruption. We must embrace and apply the law which requires that all accountants should be under the AGF who should post them to the MDAs. In the same manner all auditors should be under the Auditor-General who should post them.

We must realise that no Accountant or Auditor in any establishment can query his Permanent Secretary, Director-General, Executive-Secretary or Chief Executive Officer, when his employment is at the whims and caprices of such CEO.

Once accountants and auditors are centrally employed and controlled by the office of the Accountant-General or the Auditor-General and section 1709 complied with, corruption will be drastically reduced and all the talk about anti-corruption will be mere rhetoric.

We need to follow proper procedure and apply the truth in our search for accountability. Not doing what we ought to do is at the bottom of our endless search for the gargantuan corruption, which we have so much elevated to ignoble heights in this country. One cannot take what one did not keep, doing so tantamounts to theft. We should therefore halt all these veiled attempts to “steal” corruption. And of course, corruption is “wise” that’s why it has defied all the so-called antidote we had applied all these while and placed us on a concentric cycle of doom. The earlier we faced the reality, the better for our nation.

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