The Senate Committee on Public Accounts has threatened to demand the removal of heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies for failing to appear before it to defend queries by the Auditor-General of the Federation, Anthony Ayine.
The committee also warned the MDAs against sending representatives whenever they are summoned to the legislative complex.
The chairman of the committee, Mathew Urhoghide, issued the threat on Tuesday during a public hearing on the Auditor-General’s report in which Mr Ayine queried many MDAs for violating audit laws.
While some MDAs appeared before the panel to defend queries raised in the report, others sent representatives and some had no representative present at all.
Some of the agencies invited to the public hearing were Auditor-General of the Federation, Accountant-General of the Federation, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
Others were the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Debt Management Office (DMO), National Pension Commission (PenCom), Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Head of Service of the Federation, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Comptroller-General of the NCS and PenCom sent representatives, DPR, NBS, HoS, FIRS, INEC and DMO had no representatives. Only the Executive Secretary of PTAD, Chioma Ejikeme, was at the hearing in person.
Both the Senate and the Auditor-General had on several occasions queried MDAs for failing to submit audited reports. Past assemblies had also blamed this trend on the late passage of the nation’s annual budgets.
Mr Ayine in a report in 2018 said more MDAs have refused to submit their accounts for review since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office.
He said 324 MDAs failed to submit their accounts for audit in 2016, while 215 MDAs failed to submit in 2015. In each of the 22 previous years before that, the highest number of non-submissions was 148, in 2014. He, however, did not list the defaulting agencies.
This is even as he called for stringent sanctions on the agencies.
“The extensive violation of statutory financial reporting obligations by Parastatals is of great concern,” he noted. “Stringent sanctions, including withholding financial releases and sanction of the Chief Executives should be imposed on defaulting Agencies who do not render timely accounts, as provided in the Constitution and Financial Regulations.”
Reacting to this, Mr Urhoghide noted that non-appearance of the heads signify their admittance to the queries in the report.
He explained the importance of their appearance because of oaths that will be taken and could be used as evidence should a matter be taken to court.
“For those agencies that are already talking of representatives, please it is not going to be allowed. You will go back and tell your principals [to come] because we are going to subordinate you to oaths and anything you tell us, tomorrow if anybody decides to go to court, for people to have proper justification and evidence to show that you came before the National Assembly with what you said.
“So if you are going to answer these queries through proxies, it is unacceptable…there are serious consequences that have been earmarked in our financial regulations. If you spend money without authorisation and the regulation says you should be removed from office, that is what we are going to tell the president of this country and the executive must comply.
“So nobody is going to shave your head when you are not there. Even if you don’t appear, it only means that you have accepted the guilt and we are going to write about you. If it is true that his recommendation to us and you have not been able to defend yourself, you will be charged,” he said.
Mr Urhoghide further cited “exigencies” as reasons why the committee had not cleared the backlog of reports from the office of the auditor-general since 2015.
“Since 1999, there has been an ugly story that the auditor-general of the federation normally brings its audited accounts to the National Assembly but somehow we have not had the time to sit down with the agencies of government. You are here to answer queries that have been raised against you, your organisations and some of your persons in the capacity that you have functioned.
“We have the reports from 2015 that was sent to the National Assembly by the Auditor-General of the Federation sometimes ago. These reports ought to have been considered but for certain exigencies, the Senate has not been able to consider these reports. 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, are already in arrears and the procedure is that after getting the audited reports from MDAs, including foreign missions and courts, in accordance with the provisions of section 85 of our constitution, these reports are sent to the National Assembly through the public accounts committees of both houses.”
No excuse by any agency of the government will be taken, he warned. This is even as he noted that the Senate is determined to clear all the backlogs of all the auditor-general’s reports that have been sent since 2015.
“We have given ourselves timelines to finish 2015 and move to 2016. By the time you clear yourself from 2015 and we give you certificate of discharge, we will subordinate you to 2016 depending on the query.”
He assured that the committee will implement the same procedure to all to ensure fair hearing.
The committee, however, could not continue with the investigative hearing as it honoured the demise of one of its colleagues, Ignatius Longjan (APC, Plateau South) by suspending all parliamentary activities. The next hearing was scheduled for February 13 at 3 p.m.
Not the first warning
The latest threat from the lawmakers is not the first.
Year after year, both the Senate and the House of Representatives make the same complaint and issue very similar threats. The lawmakers even vowed to suspend the passage of the annual budget of the said agencies but ended up approving their budgets anyway.
A similar threat was issued in 2018 when the Senate said it would not pass the budget of agencies that failed to submit audited reports to the Auditor-General.
Only last week, the House of Representatives said it will “name and shame” Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that refused to appear before it with their audited reports.
The House Committee on Public Accounts commenced an investigation into the allegations of deliberate and reckless refusal by non-treasury funded MDAs to render accounts to the Office of the Accountant-General to the Federation (OAGF).
Last week also, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, gave the same warning. He even asked defaulting agencies to submit their audited reports by Monday.