Going by submissions of the Auditor General for the Federation last week, there seems to be a paradox between fighting corruption and exposing it through auditing of public funds. TAIYE ODEWALE reports
What is corruption?
Corruption as differently defined and explained in the dictionaries, is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by anybody trusted with power. It typically involves bribery, outright embezzlement of public funds and all forms of financial malfeasance.
It can also be explained as an abuse of entrusted power for private gain which erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division with attendant problems or crises.
The war against corruption
Being a cankerworm in Nigeria generally and malignant within the system in both public and private sectors, conscious efforts have been made within the last 20 years and mechanisms put in place by successive governments at the centre to fight it.
Specifically in September 2000, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration established the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for prosecution of the war against corrupt practices, particularly, in government owned Ministries , Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The scope of the war against corruption was widened by the same Obasanjo’s administration with the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2003.
To considerable extent over the years, the war against corruption has been fought by federal government through the two agencies which has landed some former public office holders in prisons and many others, having their ill-gotten wealth, in form of properties, confiscated.
But despite the considerable successes made by the two agencies in the war, particularly, the EFCC, corruption still thrives and remained malignant within the operational system of all the MDAs which were meant to be checked yearly at the point of auditing of their various financial statements.
Such auditing of consolidated financial statements of the federal government on yearly basis which comprises revenues and expenditure made by all the MDAs, revealed that in 2015 alone, unremitted monies by some of the MDAs amounted to about N300billion.
As constitutionally empowered, the Senate through recommendations made by its Commitee on Public Accounts and adopted, directed the EFCC to go after some of the officers of the MDAs allegedly involved in the financial infractions.
Incapacitating the weapon of auditing in the war
Aside EFCC not going after alleged corrupt officers indicted in yearly audit reports as directed by either the Senate or the House of Representatives through consideration of the reports, the process of carrying out the Auditing on yearly basis by the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation is bedeviled with a lot of challenges wittingly or unwittingly created by government itself.
Successive Auditors – General of the Federation from Samuel Ukura (2001 – 2016), Anthony Ayine ( January 2017 – October 2020) to the current AuGF, Adolphus Aghughu, have been complaining of alleged deliberate obstacles mounted against effective and efficient operations of the office as far as yearly auditing of Consolidated Financial Statements of the Federal Government of Nigeria is concerned, which as constitutionally empowered by section 85(5), is to expose any form of mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds by any of the MDAs.
Perhaps, after making series of such complaints during yearly budget defence sessions to either the Senate Committee on Public Accounts or that of the House of Representatives without required solutions from the government, the current Auditor-General (Adolphus Aghughu), added the complaints to the 2019 Audit Report submitted to the Clerk to the National Assembly, Ojo Olatunde Amos for onward delivery to both chambers of the National Assembly.
The Auditor-General who said what is to be investigated by relevant committees of both chambers of the National Assembly as far as the 2019 Audit report is concerned, are queries raised against management of some MDAs over N4.973 trillion unsubstantiated balances observed; cried out on series of incapacitations facing the office in carrying out its operations on yearly basis.
His words: “You will recall that on the 25th of March this year, Audit of Consolidated Financial Statement of the Federal Government for the 2018 was submitted to this office for the required investigation of queries raised in it by the National Assembly.
“Just five months after, we are here again to make submission of the 2019 Audit Report as well as bring to the notice of National Assembly again, obstacles crippling effective and efficient auditing of Consolidated Financial Statements of the Federal Government on yearly basis as made available by the Office of Accountant General of the Federation ( OAGF).
“One of such obstacles is the absence of Federal Audit Service Law which is a big challenge as far as effective and efficient public sector auditing are concerned.
“This is a law that is needed as basis of fiscal sustainability. Absence of it at the federal level is very worrisome going by the fact that some of the states of the Federation have the required law in place.
“Another problem incapacitating optimal functionality of our mandate as far as thorough and appropriate auditing of financial statements of the MDAs are concerned, is gross underfunding which is telling much on our efficiency.
“For example, the office is understaffed but there is no money for recruitment.
“Imagine many of our state offices , having just two or three staff. Auditing is done by a team not by an individual .
“Accommodation is also part of the problem, as our staff in Lagos are about to be evicted from their office due to litigations.
“These are aside problem of insecurity, seriously affecting our scope of coverage.”
Possible way out
Expectedly, the CNA in his remarks after the lamentations of the Auditor General, assured of solutions to the problems tabled, by saying, “Your complaints are very germane. They will surely be conveyed to the appropriate quarters that will surely do the needful on them because the people heading the quarters have listening ears “.
Aside understaffing, most of the other problems listed, are within the legislative coverage of the National Assembly for the required solutions.
But would the National Assembly address the problems as regards absence of required laws and gross underfunding of the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation on resumption from its long recess next month, moreso, coinciding with the time for processing of the 2022 National budget?
Time will definitely tell.