*Insists Service Wide Vote biggest fraud conduit
*As nominee says AuGF lacks power to audit NNPC, CBN others
By Ignatius Okorocha
The Senate Committee on Public Accounts on Thursday described Service Wide Vote, a budget sub-head in the national budget as the biggest conduit for fraud in Nigeria.
It further disclosed that is mere contingency fund in the national budget under the control of the Federal Ministry of Finance, which only disburses the money as it feels like.
The committee noted that “in 2021, the federal government allocated N758 billion for Service Wide Vote”, wondering what it was meant to be for.
Making this revelation at the screening of the Acting Auditor-General of Federation, Aghughu Adolphus, the Chairman of Committee, Sen. Matthew Uhroghide (PDP, Edo), said the fund was the biggest fraud because it is never audited and so remained a major conduit for non-accountability.
“Service wide vote is the biggest fraud in Nigeria. It is meant to meet unseen situations. Nobody gives account on Service Wide Vote. Standing Committees of the Senate do not know anything about it’s spending,” he said.
The lawmaker during the screening, asked Mr. Aghughu to brief the panel on how he would audit the fund, which remained unanswered.
But addressing other issues, the acting Auditor General of Federation told the lawmakers that it lacks the Constitutional powers to audit the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other big expenditure government agencies.
The nominee while responding on why the situation remained so said that “for the big spenders, it is the constitution that has issue. By virtue of 1999 Constitution, we will just provide list of what we need from them and they will make their choice. If they decline to give to us the data, we have no power to compel them to provide such information.
He assured the lawmakers of looking to issue of non-auditing of Service Wide votes, but did not provide any hint on how he intends to do so.
Speaking on the challenges of the office, he said staff of the AuGF work under tedious condition without enough manpower to carry out the tasks assigned to them.
He explained that in some states, the office has only three staff members available resulting in delayed auditing and attendant problems.
The nominee asked for legislation for the full autonomy of the Auditor General’s office to give it the necessary powers to carry out its tasks effectively, lamenting that inadequate funding halted efforts of the office to acquire needed software that will aid their work because it was struck out of previous budgets.
He howver said that the agency is currently discussing with some donor agencies in order to acquire the software, but added that the intervention of the Senate would save the situation.
Some of the Senators who spoke during the screen excercise expressed dissatisfaction with the poor funding of the Office of Auditor General of the Federation which is meant to tackle corruption.
Consequently, the chairman of the Committee remarked that the office was designed to fail because they are started of fund to carry out their tasks.
He vowed that the Committee under his watch will ensure that no agency appears for budget defence without responding to issue raised in the report of the Auditor General of the Federation.