OrderPaperToday – An ongoing investigation by the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts into the failure of federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to comply with a constitutional requirement to make available their annual audited accounts to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF) has thrown up a lot of issues that have left Nigerians wondering if the federal legislature is not complicit in the gale of infractions being revealed daily from the public hearing.
In this exclusive interview with OrderPaperNG, Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Oluwole Oke, answers questions bordering on the issue of corruption and why the National Assembly cannot be held liable for the audit crisis bedeviling the public sector. Excerpts by Lizzy Chirkpi:
QUESTION: The Public Accounts Committee in the preceding (8th) assembly did a comprehensive job by investigating the MDAs and the findings were made available through a report that was submitted and adopted on the floor of the House; so what’s the need for this investigation you are currently having?
RESPONSE: Thank you very much. We have rules of engagements in the parliament; the Constitution under section 4(62) made provisions on the roles of the parliament how they should work and section 85 expressively stated that there should be a Committee on Public Accounts but other Committees are created by the parliament subject to section 62 of the Constitution and each committee is further empowered by the rules of the House. Every Committee has its own mandate demarcation line. So similarly, the Auditor General of the Federation is empowered to work independently to audit accounts of the federation, to also review accounts of the corporations and agencies that are self-accounting, non-treasury funded or partially funded. So the Auditor-General guides them on the procedure of engagement of external duties, prescribe fees and at the end review accounts submitted by these agencies and present a report before the parliament. So let me clearly respond to the allusion you made about the eight assembly Public Accounts Committee which as you said I was part of. The report that was laid before the House was only that of 2010 but 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 were not considered but when you look at the content of this report and what you are seeing now, I leave that to you to draw conclusion. So if an agency was supposedly cleared and you are now hearing that for three or four or five years their accounts have not been audited then you be the judge.
QUESTION: But some can still question that less than a year that the national assembly cleared some of these agencies of any wrong doing they are being investigated for the same offences.
ANSWER: You have monitored the investigation so far; it is not as if it is done in the closed or in the night. Of course, you have heard from the horse’s mouth, and mind you before we got to this stage we wrote to the Auditor General to give us the status of these agencies. Another issue; all the agencies that appeared here spoke on oath because they are mindful of the implication and so they tell you the truth and nothing but the truth. It is also on record that those who have submitted their accounts up to date are discharged and acquitted like, for instance, look at Galaxy Backbone PLC- they audited their account up to date unlike the case of NIMASA (Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) which has refused to render returns. If you go through the report of the Kingsley Chinda-led Public Account Committee in the eight assembly from there you can check which agency has been cleared and which has not been cleared and form your opinion because as far as we are concerned we are working based on the provisions of the Constitution and rules of the House. We speak strictly to facts and issues and law.
QUESTION: So what are you going to do differently now to ensure the agencies don’t continue in same manner of the past?
ANSWER: For instance, those agencies that refused to render account, the parliament would do its own bit. Ours is to lay our report from our findings before the parliament at plenary and the House would take a position and convey our resolutions to the executive and it is now left for them to take appropriate action. And by doing so we must have done our own bit for Nigerians.
QUESTION: There are committees of the House saddled with the responsibility of oversighting these agencies; so do you think they have also failed in their duties?
ANSWER: The truth is that these other committees carry out their own functions accordingly, there must be a line of demarcation. They appropriate, they handle the budget of these agencies, they oversight to check the implementation of the budget but as you have mentioned it is not their duty to audit. There is what we call financial audit because two plus two gives you four but does it give you the value for the money? So those are things that standing committees may not be able to ascertain because those are exclusively the preserves of the Public Account Committee. So you can’t hold a standing committee responsible; like take for instance the Committee on Maritime Safety cannot be held responsible for NIMASA not auditing their accounts and rendering same to the Auditor-General.
QUESTION: What is the core purpose of this hearing or investigation?
ANSWER: Of course, the purpose of this hearing is pursuant to the report of the Auditor-General in the 2007 financial year where the Auditor General disclosed that they find it very difficult to get 333 MDAs (Ministries Departments and Agencies) to render account and that was what spurred this Committee to bring a motion on the floor of the House for the matter to be investigated and it is as a result of this investigation that all these things are coming out to the public. It is a serious problem for the nation that people would sit down in the office for ten years; sixteen years; four, five years take tax payers money and refuse to render account. It is very sad.
QUESTION: Is your committee working in collaboration with anti-graft agencies because this seems to me like corruption?
ANSWER: Yes; when you see people at the public hearing you don’t know where they are from so I’m sure they attend our meetings and how they process it is their mandate.