SERAP to FG: ‘Fight against debt crisis, revenue issues in Nigeria’

By Francis IWUCHUKWU, Lagos

The Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN, was on Wednesday charged to enact an audit law to fight against the debt crisis and revenue issues in the county.

The charge came from a Lagos-based rights group, Socio-economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, through the Executive Director of Paradigm Leaders Support Initiative, PLSI, Segun Elemo.

Elemo who spoke at an interactive session on “Promoting Transparency and Accountability in Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Nigeria, insisted that if the Audit law is assented to, it will aid the fight against corruption and accountability among public office holders.

The PLSI boss prayed the FGN, led by President Muhammadu Buhari to give assent to the Audit Law that was submitted by the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly on January 20, 2019, to salvage the mismanagement of funds by Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the country.

According to Elemo, “If you don’t enact an Audit Law, you will not empower the office of the auditor general and this issue about the Accountant General submitting the year-end financial statement will continue.

“There is no delegation of responsibility. So, everybody is just taking advantage of the gap in the system. It takes nothing from the Federal Government to enact the law.

“If the audit law is passed, it will assist in the fight against corruption, and it will also promote transparency and accountability among public office holders.

“This law will provide for the timely publication of audit reports as international best practices allow for audit reports to be published at most 18 months after the end of the financial year.”

In reviewing SERAP’s findings on the 2018 audit report, Elemo argued that 79 agencies of government had a total budget of N2.1 trillion, adding that the total funds released to the agencies was N831 billion but N 617 billion was unaccounted for.

Elemo identified six cross-cutting issues in the audit report such as unmerited advances, store items not taken on store charge, and circumvention of the procurement procedure.

Others, he said, are irregularities in payment and expenditure which include unauthorised foreign trips, failure in remittance of revenue and irregularities in contract award, execution and payment.

He posited: “Of all the six crossing issues, failure in remittance of revenue took about N54 billion. What that means is that MDA’s were generating revenue, and they did not remit to the federation account.

“Three issues we have in Nigeria today are revenue issues, we have a debt crisis and a development deficit.

“There is no way you want to solve the debt crisis and development deficit without talking about revenue and failure in remittance of revenue grew by 164 per cent.

“When you look at what happened in 2017 and 2018, there was a growth of 164 per cent. It means that in 2017, failure in remittance of revenue was just N20 billion.

“In 2018, failure in remittance of revenue to the federation account has grown to N54 billion, and we are saying that there is no money to implement the budget.”

Meanwhile, a federal Lawmaker from Osun State, Busayo Oluwole-Oke, in his remarks, called for the enforcement of the law to actualise transparency and accountability.

Oluwole-Oke also advocated for the creation of sanctions for erring public office holders.

SERAP recommended that the federal government immediately impose stringent measures, including withholding financial releases and sanctioning the Chief Executive Officer of MDAS implicated in cases of corruption within their ministries, departments and agenda.

It also urged the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry with subpoena power to conduct a transparent, comprehensive, and impartial investigation into systemic corruption within the MDAs.

SERAP also urged the Buhari-led government to mandate all heads of MDAs to declare their assets.

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