Senate vows to expose govt. Agencies refusing to account for public funds

 By Ignatius Okorocha

The Senate on Wednesday at plenary vowed to  expose government agencies that have refused to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to defend the interrogatories of the Auditor-General for the Federation (AuGF) in the 2015 report.

In his remarks after the Red Chamber considered the report of the Committee on the annual report of the AuGF on the accounts of the Federation for the year ended 31st December, 2015, President of Senate, Sen. Ahmad Lawan, warned that any public official that refuses to account for  public funds made available to them would be forced to do so. 

He said: “This is one of our major responsibilities as a parliament, to hold the executive to account.

“And 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 fund 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.

“But I want to also say that, those who turned up to defend or explain the interrogations by the Auditor-General did the right thing and we must commend them for coming, whether they were able to convince the committee that the Auditor-General was not right or not.  They appeared responsible and accountable. 

“For those that have been able to convince the committee on the propriety of what they did, we commend them because they followed the proper accounting mechanisms established, probably by the office of the Accountant-General.”

Lawan lamented that most agencies of government have refused to comply with accounting systems put in place by the office of the Accountant-General.

According to him, this is largely responsible for fraudulent transactions by some Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government. 

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. 

“[And] from my experience as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in this Senate, 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 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, especially the major agencies, and look at the systems they follow so that we stop people from doing the wrong things before we start to look for remedy.”

The Senate President further disclosed 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 need 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 summarized.”

Earlier, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, said findings showed that there were “consistent contravention of relevant Constitutional provisions and other Extant Laws by the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.”

According to the lawmaker, the late submission of annual financial statement 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 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.

Urhoghide further disclosed that there was absence of collaboration amongst 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. 

He explained that the lack of cooperation between both offices poses a barrier to efficient, effective and transparent audit process of the nation’s Federation Account. 

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. 

The Upper Chamber, after consideration of the Public Accounts Committee report on the annual report of the Auditor-General for the Federation on the accounts of the Federation for the year ended 31st December, 2015, stood it down pending when the committee summarises its recommendations to the Senate.

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