The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) has said it blocked the diversion of N189 billion unspent surplus personnel costs across Federal Government establishments between 2019 and 2020.
The ICPC Chair, Bolaji Owasanoye, said the commission’s findings revealed that the money came about through budget manipulation by government officials resulting in most Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) receiving allocations and releases beyond their actual needs.
Mr Owasanoye, who spoke at a one-day forum held in Abuja on Wednesday, said the discoveries were made during a mop-up exercise across 208 MDAs, through the Federal Government Open Treasury Portal (OTP).
The event themed, ‘Transparency and Fiscal Discipline in Budget Implementation’ was co-organised by the ICPC and the Budget Office of the Federation (BOF).
It was held for Directors of Finance and Accounts and Internal Auditors of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“Funds meant for personnel costs were flagged by the ICPC during its 2019/2020 system study and review of the MDAs,” Mr Owansanoye said at the event.
A screen slide shared by him with the title, ‘ICPC prevents N189billion MDAs personnel cost,’ indicated that about N42 billion in unspent personnel surplusage was blocked in 2019, and more than triple of that, totaling N147 billion, was blocked in 2020.
He said, “In general, our findings showed that there was budget manipulation by most MDAs which resulted in MDAs receiving both appropriation and releases beyond their actual needs. While these surpluses were open to the risk of being misappropriated as is tradition.
“Sometimes, at the end of the year, the funds tied down for non-existent personnel deprived government and indeed needy MDAs of much-needed funds to apply to other critical but underfunded areas, especially overhead and capital development.”
The ICPC boss added that some MDAs mostly from the health sector and some educational institution diverted the funds from tax and another through third party deductions such as union dues.
“The focus on Health and Education Sectors is because of the importance of their services which touch the lives of ordinary citizens and are critical to meeting any of the internationally recognized development goals,” he said.
He added that the commission’s findings about educational institutions revealed padding of nominal rolls, warrant releases over actual personnel cost needs, inadequate or non-budgetary allocation for outsourced services, widespread misuse of personnel cost allocation, amongst others.
‘How discoveries were made’
Mr Owansanoye also explained how the commission arrived at its findings through the studying and further investigations of the payment data uploaded to the Open Treasury Portal (OTP).
He said, “In December 2019 the federal government launched the Open Treasury Portal (OTP) onto which all payments from N5milliionn and above by MDAs are uploaded for transparency and public scrutiny.
“We immediately began studying payment data on the portal again with focus on educational and health institutions.
“While at it, the issue of payments of feeding allowance to federal unity secondary schools was thrown up and we had to carry out further investigations on expenditure on meal subsidy releases that remained constant despite the lockdown during which schools were closed and students away at home.”
He said in response to the commission’s findings, government set up the Transparency Portal Quality Assurance and Compliance Committee with ICPC as a member.
“The committee now scrutinises payments on the portal and periodically sends lists of agencies with serious infraction for further review and sometimes investigation and enforcement action,” he added.
Mr Owansanoye, however, said the infractions continued despite the measures put in place with erring MDAs being confronted with their wrongs.
He said, “In the spirit of collaboration, we report back our findings on cases of fraud or unaccounted for funds a number of which investigations are ongoing.
“The review is carried out on month-by-month transactions and is, therefore, an ongoing exercise and despite confronting erring ministries and MDAs with federal circulars prohibiting these activities, the infractions continue thus stronger measures on the part of the government and anti-corruption agencies are inevitable.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 13 last year signed into law N13.6 trillion for the 2021 budget.
The MDAs’ budgetary allocations usually come under either capital or recurrent expenditure.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported in February last year how the ICPC ‘prevented’ over 200 MDAs from squandering about N41.98 billion unspent funds from the N8.92 trillion 2019 budget.
Earlier at the event, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the theme of the forum was apt as it spoke to key issues of appropriation involving key officers responsible for carrying out the functions in their different offices.
Ms Zainab, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Special Duties, Aliyu Shinkafi, mentioned that IPPIS and the return to the January to December fiscal calendar are key reforms by the current administration.
The minister said the recommendations reached at the meeting would be followed to further enhance fiscal responsibility, especially in budget implementation.
In his presentation, the Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation (BOF), Ben Akabueze, said the budget was matter of law, and therefore infractions in this regard are punishable by law.
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