Auditors-general’s quest for enabling laws

The recent lamentation by delegates to the 49th Conference of the Body of Federal and State Auditors-General in Nigeria to the effect that the absence of an enabling law is impeding the work of the auditing agencies deserves urgent legislative action. This is more so bearing the fact that auditing is at the core of the anti-corruption fight of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The Auditor-General of the Federation, Anthony Ayine, also said inadequate independence of the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) in Nigeria remains a major challenge the group was facing. He said having an audit Act will guarantee administrative and financial autonomy for the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, and enhance its efficiency and effectiveness, as topmost on the list of challenges it is currently facing.

Administrative and financial autonomy are two of the three qualities required for a nation’s supreme audit institution to be truly independent, the third being legal autonomy, which Section 85 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, already provides.

Speaking on “Prospects and Challenges of the Audit Institutions in Today’s Nigeria” to flag-off the Conference in Abuja penultimate week, Ayine said in order to reposition audit institutions, generally, to meet their constitutional mandates, it was imperative to ensure that “the three-fold audit independence that will give the legal, administrative and financial autonomy is provided”.

Other challenges highlighted by the auditor-general include poor accounting environment, contending with the scourge of fraudulent activities/corruption in the public sector, poor or inadequate use of appropriate and modern technology by audit institutions.

He also spoke about lack of management capacity and proper appreciation of the key role of management responsibilities in the audited entities. The auditor-general highlighted the ‘unbalanced media reporting of audit issues’, and very poor or unattractive remuneration of staff of SAIs in Nigeria.

He said the absence of robust working relationship between SAIs in Nigeria and the Public Accounts Committees of the National and State Assemblies was among challenges currently facing the body.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Body of Federal and State Auditors-General, Abdu Usman Aliyu, who is also the Auditor-General for Bauchi state, said autonomy for audit institutions remained an impediment to the growth of the body and ultimately hinders accountability and good governance in the country.

“Although, many states in the federation are able to have their Audit Laws and some have even established Audit Service Commissions, we will appreciate it if the Audit Bill of the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation is signed into law so that states can just domesticate it,” he said.

Aliyu said audit institutions cannot live up to their mandates if the willingness of the executives and other stakeholders to accept and respond to external scrutiny of the management of public funds is lacking. He also challenged auditors to continually adhere to the professional code of conduct guiding their operations at all times.

It is instructive that a report released in July last year indicated that more Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) refused to submit their accounts for review since President Buhari assumed office than previously.

The poor compliance of MDAs to Nigerian laws on submission of accounts was worse in each of Buhari’s first two years in office than any previous year since Nigeria returned to democracy from military dictatorship in 1999.

According to the auditor-general of the federation, 324 MDAs failed to submit their accounts for audit in 2016, while 215 MDAs failed to submit in 2015. In each of the 22 previous years before that, the highest number of non-submissions was 148, in 2014.

Although he did not list the defaulting agencies in 2016, the Auditor-General, Anthony Ayine, expressed dismay about the situation. He said in the 2016 audit report that “The extensive violation of statutory financial reporting obligations by parastatals is of great concern.”

Ayine’s remarks were contained in the annual report of the Auditor-General for the Federation on the accounts of the Federation of Nigeria for the year ended December 2016.

Analysis of the report shows that only 51 audited financial statements for 2016 and 149 for 2015 were submitted to the Office of the Auditor-General as at December 27, 2017. This, the report said, is contrary to the Financial Regulation 3210 (v) which enjoins the chief executive officers of these bodies to submit audited accounts to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, OAuGF, “not later than 31st May of the following year of Account.”

But in the executive summary of the 2016 report, Ayine noted that the Financial Statements of the Federal Government for the year ended December 31, 2016 were first submitted to him by the Accountant-General of the Federation on June 30, 2017.

The non-compliance to legislative instruments guiding the auditing process in the country, particularly by the MDAs, is not only condemnable but also reprehensible. Consequently, we call for stiff penalties against erring MDAs to serve as deterrence to others. It is also expedient to promulgate relevant laws that will empower auditors to impose the sanctions on defaulters.    

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