The House of Representatives on Thursday unveiled plans to investigate the $36.1 million and $1.5 million grant obtained to finance the operations of the office of the Auditor General of the Federation (oAuGF) in the 2020 Appropriation Act.
Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Hon. Wole Oke disclosed this in Abuja during the investigative hearing into the petition on underfunding of the oAuGF by the Budget Office of the Federation.
In his Intervention, Hon. Mark Gbillah who affirmed that the lawmakers are acquainted with the operations of global Organizations and the World Bank processes to access the funds, argued that: “it is disingenuous for your office an our government to subject such an important agency to have to start to look for funding in form of a loan which you say you considered that in allocating funds to them. So obviously, you do not allocate any more fund because you feel there’s a loan for them that can be accessed.
According to him,”Is that proper? I do not believe that is proper, and I think that fundamentally that is the issue
“Since you are still saying that it was indicated in the MTEF but not in the budget, is that what we are suppose to be the standard not the budget proposal? Because like you rightly pointed out now, when you bring the MTEF to the Parliament, you put this in a general explanation not in the specifics. But here you have specifically indicated that there is this amount at the disposal of the Auditor General for the Federation to use as a loan
“Now we believe and this is in line with the appropriation that the amount should have been properly appropriated and captured in the Appropriation Act, specifically for the office,” he noted
On his part, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Hon. Abdulkadir Abdullahi, who expressed displeasure over the tone of the letter from the Director General of Budget Office, alleged that his privilege was breached and urged the Committee to refer the letter to the Speaker for further legislative action.
According to him, “I want to express ambivalent feeling, ambivalent in the sense that on one hand the DG has availed us certain information that we are going to take it up this issue of loan and grant, which to our knowledge has not been disclosed in the budget but which ought to have been disclosed and considered and even approved by the Parliament for them to legitimately utilise the fund
“Even though he has spoken about the tone of the letter of the DG, we have not address it enough. I come under Order 6 Rule 6, during a period when the House is not sitting and is not expected to meet for a further period of at least two weeks, a member may bring to the attention of the Speaker a matter of privilege,” he noted.
In his response, Mr. Akabueze argued that the $36.1 million loan was part of the $125 million or N709 billion loan reflected in the fiscal framework, adding that all the Agencies that need the funds know about this and the access, adding that the details of the loans are usually captured in the budget where there is need for payment of counterpart funding.
Mr. Akabueze who described the allegation leveled against him of deliberately starving the office of the Auditor General of funds as false and pre-judicial, argued that none of the 1,200 MDAs have sufficient funds required at any given time.
According to him “with respect to the office of the Auditor General between 2015 and 2019, on two occasions the National Assembly had varied the executive proposal, one occasion in 2015, to reduce the Executive proposal for Overhead; and in 2018 to increase the executive proposal for Overhead
“And so, if the allocation to the oAuGF over the years has been inadequate, then the National Assembly is also culpable
“So, to then level a personal allegation against the DG of deliberately underfunding the office of the auditor-general again, in my opinion, does not reflect the fact. I also brought to your attention, the fact that I am not sure you were aware of because it was not cited, which is that the office of the Auditor General of the Federation receives substantial resources from development partners
“And I cite here one of those programmes that is currently active; what is called the FGIP (Fiscal Governance and Institutions Project). Under the FGIP, there is $36.1 million of a multilateral loan which is part of the national borrowing plan and it is available to the office of the auditor-general to use, to advance its work. Under that same programme, the office is entitled to a grant of $1.5 million from the World Bank. I’m just citing one source
“These are the additional resources taken into account by the Budget Office when we proposed budgetary allocations to the OAGF,” Mr. Akabueze noted.
He added that: “Up till this year, if you look at the Appropriation Act you’ll see a one liner under Service Wide Vote that says multilateral/bilateral project-tied projects and then if you look at the fiscal framework, under financing items you will see the equivalent lump sum indicated.
“But the respective MDAs who are the beneficiaries of this loan they have access to those funds. As I said, up until 3 years ago, it didn’t even feature in the fiscal framework nor in the Appropriation Act. And so we begun a process of making sure that it is captured in not just the fiscal framework but also the Appropriation Act,” Mr. Akabueze said.
To this end, Hon. Wole Oke who argued that the Auditor General remained and played critical role in the implementation of the anti-corruption policy of the present administration, hence should be given necessary support to function.
The lawmaker, who maintained that Nigeria is not a ‘banana republic, maintained that the Public Procurement Act, 2007 should be a prerequisite for budgeting, an argument which the Director General objected to.
To this end, Hon. Oke said: “We will get back to you DG, thank you for finding time to appear before this committee. We don’t have time, it’s our desire to pass this budget based on the disclosure by the leadership for December 3rd, so we need to fast track all these issue, so same time next week.
“We should meet, by then we must have heard from other stakeholders, the Head of Service, Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission, then we will meet with the Minister of Finance.
“The details of releases made to auditor general as claimed by you, that’s the $36.1 million and then the bank statements, those are the documents were looking for, for this matter,” Hon. Oke ruled.