Mega-billion government agency hoards remittances without reprimand

A notorious federal agency that generates hundreds of billions of naira annually, spends nearly all of the amount without authorization, Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told lawmakers Thursday.

The agency involved only turns over to government an average of N2 billion naira in obligatory remittances, regardless of what it generates internally each year, and in violation of Fiscal Responsibility Act, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Bright Okogu, told the House of Representatives Finance committee.

And yet, after years of repeated warning, the agency is being “dialogued” with by the government for a change, with no reprimand, she added.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Okogu, refused to name the defaulting office, and the lawmakers did not contest.

The rare disclosures, made at a meeting that discussed government’s economic outline, turned out a contradiction of the administration’s flaunted resolve to increase its internally- generated revenues for budget funding, and yet frustrated by its ministries, departments and agencies(MDAs).

Lawmakers have repeatedly accused the MDAs of misappropriating at least a trillion naira of internally-generated funds that could have helped funds the budget.

While such agencies, which still draw funding from the central budget, are permitted by the  Fiscal Responsibility Act to use part of their internally-generated funds, the 2007 law demands at least 20 per cent of the money be transferred to the government’s purse.

But Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who is also the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, said many MDAs, unscrupulously raise their spending profiles proportionally as they generate more money.

“When their revenues rise, they raise their expenditures so we cannot get anything from them,” she told the House committee.

Corroborating that claim, the budget DG, Mr. Okogu, said the unnamed agency, in 2007 reported making 90 billion naira, while its expenditure was 86 billion naira. Under the observation of the finance ministry, the same agency in 2011, reported 132 billion naira as cash receipts while 130 billion was for expenditure.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the spending raise appeared deliberate, and President Goodluck Jonathan was briefed about the development. Still, no auditing had been done and the agency, for this year, is going that route again.

The president, she said, has however advised the agency be dialogued with and the “books looked at” again.

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