Invaders, night marauders stealing Nigeria’s resources from the source – Oke
House Public Accounts Committee Chairman Oluwole Oke tells LEKE BAIYEWU how federal government departments, departments, and agencies waste and misuse public resources
Yours is the only committee clearly mentioned by the 1999 Constitution. What are its main objectives and mandates?
The main mandate of the committee, according to article 85 of the constitution, is to consider the reports filed by the (office of the) auditor general of the Federation, then to present our report to the prosecution, then the House will deliberate on the report . , approve it and forward our resolutions to the executive for implementation. So essentially we verify what and how our resources have been applied, whether they have been employed or deployed effectively, and to ensure accountability at all times.
How far has the executive gone in implementing the recommendations of the National Assembly, in particular the audit requests supported by parliament?
Our findings and recommendations are incorporated into our reports from 2011 to 2018, which we submitted. We put the same thing on the floor of the Chamber. Thus, it is now the duty of the House to schedule our reports for consideration in Committee of the Whole; and thereafter our resolutions, decisions and conclusions will be subject to what we call a conference with the Senate committee, perhaps if there are differences in our resolutions or decisions. After the conference, the final position will be adopted and forwarded to the executive for implementation.
Why have Nigerians not seen the review and implementation of the reports?
That’s what I told you; that at the committee level, we have done our work until 2017 and part of 2018. The final compilation of our reports has been tabled in the House. Now the House, I believe, beginning next week, will begin consideration of the reports of the House public accounts committee as presented to it. And then whatever decisions we make now will go to the Senate for approval. Don’t forget that we also have the PAC in the Senate. The Senate PAC also has its own reports and recommendations that will be tabled before the Senate in Committee of the Whole. So if we are on the same page; if there is no difference between our decisions and our resolutions, it means that our conference will be easier. We’ll just meet and adopt the reports. But where you have discrepancies and differences, then we will go to the conference committee and the finality of the reports will go to each house – the Senate and the House. Then there will be a third reading and we will send them to the Executive.
During the years under study, what were the findings made by your committee, in particular by questioning the ministries, departments and agencies on the audit requests issued against them?
The truth is this: we have a lot of waste… waste due to contract inflation, duplication of projects, abuse of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007 and failure to deliver accounts. These are the problems. Corruption is not just about naira and kobo; it may even be driving. The conduct of a government official can throw a government into a serious quagmire. These are the problems we encounter. I am going to give you an example; through the Nigeria Immigration Service, income accruing to Nigeria has been mishandled and stolen by abusing the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and Section 162 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic from Nigeria. All revenue accruing to Nigeria should go to the Federation account, but what happens in the case of the immigration service in terms of revenue generated in the areas of issuing passports, visas and other administrative commitments – where citizens abroad have made payments online, find out what happened to that income.
Only 25% access the Federation account. The rest is taken from the source by invaders and night marauders. I can go on to mention many windows through which Nigeria loses revenue. They understand the abuse of free zones by the free zone authority. Something that should have been helpful turned out to be hurting us. When you look at the implementation of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) Act and the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority Act, go check them out and see how Nigeria bleeds. The Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission, go and see how we are losing due to the abuse of these schemes. Even the duty waivers, check it out and you will see that Nigeria is seriously bleeding. You see someone importing goods that we can manufacture in Nigeria and you give that person duty relief. In other words, you are killing local industry and exporting jobs to another country.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retired), while tabling the Appropriation Bill for 2023 before a joint session of the National Assembly, said the shortfall remained the biggest threat to the Nigeria’s fiscal sustainability. Do you agree with him?
The truth is, yes, Mr. President is right. The Minister of Finance is right to say that we have a revenue deficit in the country and that we are losing revenue. Look how some people are stealing our crude oil. But the little we have been able to harvest is abused daily. It’s the truth.
Where are the anti-corruption agencies in this case?
Anti-corruption agencies are doing their best. Every day I read about convictions obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Twitter. They do their best, but you have to understand that a fair trial is a very sensitive instrument and that citizens must exhaust this mechanism, which means going to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. Until you get finality on some of the cases before the EFCC, you may not be able to appreciate what they are doing. But I tell you, they do a lot.
How much does your committee seek to save for the government and Nigeria if the recommendations of your reports are adopted and implemented?
Let me tell you; if the government examines the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and supports the Office of the Auditor General (of the Federation) to do its job thoroughly and honestly, the savings we are likely to obtain will cover our total exposure in passive terms.
Is it that huge?
It’s huge… very huge. There is a lot of waste in the system.
Who should be held responsible?
The executive; account managers should be held accountable. The law is very clear. Article 20 of the Public Procurement Law clearly indicates who is to be held accountable. He’s the chief accountant. But because people don’t follow the Public Procurement Act to the letter, people get away with it.
There have been instances where you have decided in investigative hearings that capital release for certain MDAs should be suspended until they report on previous allocations. Why can’t the government take this route by only releasing funds to those who are accountable?
I agree with you that we can go through this window. Let me give you an example; the Accountant General of the Federation issued a circular in 2016 that, in accordance with IPAS (independent public accountant) parameters, each MDA should submit stand-alone financial statements. Find out how many MDAs have complied with this circular. The Auditor General (of the Federation) escalated it in the 2019 report and you will be shocked that 950 MDAs refused to comply with this instruction, including foreign missions. So I always put the blame on parliament. The various standing committees of the House should be operational. They should watch MDAs closely. Remember that (the) public accounts committee works after death, but the various standing committees of the House should be operational in real time. If I give you money; if I give you funds, I should watch what you do with the money and not wait until the damage has been done before the committee and the Auditor General intervene. We need to deter our people from wrongdoing.
Are there recommendations for the prosecution of errant MDAs and government officials in your reports?
Sure! The executive appoints the auditor general, and the same auditor general returns to audit the executive. You (AuGF) bring your report to parliament and you send your report on the findings to the same executive. You cannot be judge in your own case. That’s why we’re advocating that we should ask the Public Accounts Tribunal to look at the reports of the public accounts committees of parliament and rule on the same thing, something akin to the Code of Conduct Office and the Tribunal of the code of conduct. It’s in the constitution. We have to trigger it and people will start being afraid of doing bad things.
The Office of the Auditor General of the Federation would be underfunded and therefore ineffective. Do you suspect system sabotage?
I agree with you that this is a deliberate act because the Auditor General does not have enough staff; it is under the control of the executive. The head of the civil service (of the Federation) approves its manpower (staff) needs; the Budget Office (of the Federation) approves the money; the accountant general (of the Federation) releases the money; the same people (whose accounts are) to be audited. So why do you think they will empower the office to do its job? This is why Mr. President should approve the Audit Bill and give the Office of the Auditor General (of the Federation) the status it deserves in the constitution, where no one will have any control over the office.
President Buhari, in his presentation of the budget, said that some National Assembly Committees considered and unilaterally approved the budgets of some MDAs without his knowledge and approval. Have you seen any audit queries to this effect?
Mr President is right and you followed our hearings during which we summoned the chairmen of the Assembly’s committees. I can tell you about some committees where the Senate and House committee chairs will just sit down and usurp the powers of Mr. Speaker and approve the budgets of the MDAs (which they oversee), which which is wrong. The framers of the Nigerian Constitution, under Sections 80 and 81, make it clear who is to present the Estimates (to the National Assembly). It’s Mr. President. And Mr. President, when he comes (to the National Assembly to table the finance bill), should come with all the budgets of the MDAs or parastatals under him. Once he tables the budget, we have rules and procedures for how a bill becomes law. It must be read a first, a second and a third time.
With a deficit of 10.78 billion naira and new borrowing totaling 8.80 billion naira in the proposed budget for 2023, between expanding the tax net and raising revenue, and plugging leaks and controlling waste, which do you consider the most appropriate?
We need to plug all the leaks. When we plug all the leaks, we will see the revenue. Exchange rates and everything will go down. Then you start dealing with people who mismanaged our income.