Buhari underfunds crucial audit office – Report

A group photo of President Buhari and Ministers
A group photo of President Buhari and Ministers

The Muhammadu Buhari administration has, compared to its predecessor, allocated less sums to the auditor-general’s office, which audits and reviews public accounts, an official document shows.

The poor funding since Mr Buhari assumed office in 2015 is now hindering the auditor-general from performing his crucial role necessary for transparency and accountability in government offices.

Although Nigeria’s budget increased in Mr Buhari’s first two full years in office, the money his government allocated to the audit office reduced, thus limiting the capability of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (OAuGF) to function appropriately.

The reduced funding came amidst increase in the national budget, the mandate of the OAuGF and public expectations of transparency and accountability in government activities, said Anthony Ayine, Nigeria’s Auditor-General of the Federation.

Mr Ayine’s remarks are captured in the 2016 audit report by his office, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.

The report is the latest by the auditor-general’s office and was released last month.

Mr Ayine, who lamented the poor funding, noted that severe funding constraints continue to be a major impediment to achieving the statutory and constitutional mandates of his office.

“The National Budget, the mandate of the Office and public expectations have been increasing over the past years, just as the annual audit budget has been on a steady decline,” he lamented.

Mr Ayine was appointed by Mr Buhari after after “emerging tops at rigorous mandatory written and oral interviews.” He assumed office in January 2017 after he was cleared by the Senate.

THE REDUCTIONS

A PREMIUM TIMES analysis of the appropriation for audit showed that since Mr Buhari took over government in 2015, there has been a sharp decline in the amount appropriated for the auditor-general’s office.

A breakdown of the figures shows that in the three-year period preceding Mr Buhari’s reign, more allocations were appropriated for audit of government accounts. In 2012 for instance, N3.1 billion was allocated for audit while the national appropriation stood at N4.8 trillion. In 2013, N3.6 billion was budgeted while the total national appropriation stood at N4.9 trillion. The sum of N5.1 billion was budgeted for audit in 2014 while the total national appropriation stood at N4.6 trillion.

In 2015, however, the figures began to record a decline as N3.2 billion was appropriated for audit while the total national budget stood at N4.4 trillion. Although Mr Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, the 2015 budget was prepared and signed by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.

Since Mr Buhari’s government started preparing its own budget, however, budgetary allocations to the auditor general have gotten worse amidst total increase in budget figures.

In 2016, the appropriation to the OAuGF stood at N2.79 billion while the national appropriation stood at N6 trillion. In 2017, the audit figure reduced slightly to N2.78 while the total national appropriation shot up to N7.2 trillion. The appropriation for audit across these years, the auditor-general report said, included personnel cost of the OAuGF.

A PREMIUM TIMES review of the 2018 budget, however, shows an increase in budgetary allocation to the office. The total allocation to the auditor’s office increased to N5.1 billion, although about 94 per cent of that sum (N4.8 billion) is meant for recurrent expenditure.

In his 2016 report prepared before the 2018 budget was concluded, Mr Ayine lamented that the appropriated sums were not only reduced but the actual funding has been repeatedly cut over the year. This makes it difficult for his office to deliver on its mandate of ensuring that accounts of MDAs are checked thoroughly to ensure transparency and accountability in government and prevent graft and other fraudulent transactions.

“Funding for audit has been cut repeatedly over the years, and actual releases for Overheads in 2016 was less than half of the already inadequate budget,” Mr Ayine noted in the executive summary of the report. “The present funding levels make it very difficult to fulfil my constitutional mandate and cover the full range of governance issues to the satisfaction of all key stakeholders.”

PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported how the 2016 audit report showed that more ministries, departments and agencies have refused to submit their accounts for audit since Mr Buhari took over power. The report showed that poor compliance of MDAs to Nigerian laws on audit and submission of accounts is worse in each of Mr Buhari’s first two years in office than any previous year since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.

Commenting on the failure of the MDAs to comply with audit laws, Mr Ayine said the development was of “great concern” and suggested that “stringent sanctions”, including withholding financial releases and sanction of heads of defaulting agencies, should be put in place by the Nigerian government.

NO EXPLANATION

The underlying cause of the government’s poor funding of audit is not immediately clear. Femi Adesina, Mr Buhari’s spokesperson, did not reply to PREMIUM TIMES request for an explanation. He did not return calls nor reply text messages sent to him either.

The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, also absolved himself of any responsibility in the poor funding for the audit agency.

Mr Udoma’s spokesperson, Akpandem James, told PREMIUM TIMES that the ministry and the minister had nothing to do with the reduction in funding.

“We don’t prepare budget for ministries and departments and agencies, they bring their own budgets. They prepare their budget; we only collate the budget and look at them and ensure that they are in line with the policy direction of government,” he explained.

“Once it is in line with the policy direction of government and it is within the limit allocated to those ministries, that’s not the business of the minister. We collate them and send them to the president and then the minister defends them at the federal executive council; when they are okay, they send them to the national assembly. You should also find out how much did they put, who cut it and at what point was it reduced.”

He, thereafter, suggested that the details would be with the Budget Office.

But when PREMIUM TIMES reached out to Afolabi Olajuwon, Information Officer in the Budget Office, on Thursday, he said he would not be able to attend to our reporter’s request on phone. Even if a letter was written, it would take some time to get any response, he said.

“I don’t think it’s possible until next week. If you want to get any fact on that, send a request in writing and channel to the director general budget office, he will channel it to the appropriate quarters.”

A BAD SIGN – ACTIVISTS

The development, analysts say, is in sharp contrast to the current administration’s stance that it is focusing on transparency, accountability and has zero tolerance for corruption.

An economist, Paul Aladje, said the implication of such development is bad because it may give civil servants the free hands to steal.

“You’d be surprised most of the ministries are giving the same contractors their jobs; and most of the times, even these people are not Nigerians. The economic implications are job losses, capital flight, etc. I am of the opinion that we need to create a system that makes it difficult to steal,” he said.

“Why is it that a very vital parastatal of government that has tendency to help in the promotion of anti-corruption is deliberately underfunded?” said Jide Ojo, a public affairs analyst.

“It shows that the government is not serious. They don’t have good office, they don’t have required personnel, they are expected to offer professional advice and even many of the string operations and annual audit reports that have indicted many of the MDAs, they just end up gathering dust; the government never acted on them, deliberately so, because everything is done under political considerations,” he said.

Mr Ojo said the OAuGF, like anti-graft agencies, EFCC and ICPC, should be well funded

“You need to even be able to hire consultants when you have shortfall in your personnel.

“You know the office of the auditor-general has been shouting on mountain top about how it is underfunded, how even with the whistle it has blown, nothing is happening.

“What do you expect, the man would just keep quiet. Maybe one day a new administration would come and deem it fit to do something,” he said.

He added that although funding for the OAuGF has “been bad before the advent of this administration; but if it says it wants to change and the president is enjoying global acclaim on the strength of his anti-corruption crusade, why should it allow this to go on.”

The activist suggests a way forward for the auditor-general.

“I think maybe the auditor-general can do a direct memo to the president or seek audience with the president and that’s if the cabal will even allow him,” he said.

Mr Ojo also suggested that the OAuGF could solicit international donations and support to augment whatever comes from the national appropriation.

“Maybe what he could do, if it is not a breach of public service rule, is to reach out to development partners,” he explained.

“If he could reach out to development partners like EFCC did. If he could reach out to donor partners, at least in terms of capacity building or even raising issues with the president. Some of these partners have access to the president.”


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