The disclosure by the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, that N2.67 billion meant for the school feeding programme in some unity schools ended in personal accounts, is lamentable. Besides, another N2.5 billion was reportedly misappropriated by a senior civil servant (now deceased) in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The Chairman of the anti-graft agency, who revealed this in his address at the second National Summit on Diminishing Corruption, with the theme: “Together Against Corruption and Launch of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy,” in Abuja, also listed that other assets recovered in the Ministry of Agriculture include 18 choice buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land. According to the ICPC boss, under Open Treasury Portal review carried out between January and August 15, 2020, it was discovered that 268 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), had 72 accumulating infractions of N90 million. In addition, 33 MDAs tendered unsatisfactory explanations that N4.1billion was transferred to Treasury Single Account(TSA) and about N4.2billion paid into accounts of some individuals.
The revelation by the ICPC is a pointer that the corruption in the MDAs is pervasive. The corruption in public sector agencies poses a challenge to the present administration’s war against official graft in all sectors. It requires a determined effort and sincerity of purpose to rein in the culprits. The anti-graft agency’s discovery may be a tip of the iceberg of the money misappropriated and yet to be discovered. Besides, there are many uncompleted projects the commission said are being handled by some politicians, civil servants in implementing MDAs and contractors, that have now been abandoned. Considering the level of corruption in the MDAs, we urge the government to holistically investigate all of them and prosecute those found culpable. This has become necessary because the agencies drive government’s policies and programmes. The execution of these programmes is likely to fail if the officials are involved in financial malfeasance.
It will be recalled that in 2017, the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation(AuGF) gave a damning report on the financial records of the MDAs, which included huge financial infractions and mismanagement of funds. The audit report showed that there were deficiencies in the processes for consolidating the balances of MDAs into one economic entity. In addition, 160 government agencies defaulted in the submission of audited accounts for 2016; 265 for 2017. Also, 11 MDAs had never submitted any financial statements since inception as well as the startling revelation that some agencies had consistently breached the extant laws, guidelines and regulations in remission of money to the TSA.
To check corruption in the MDAs, we call on the National Assembly to impose stringent sanctions, including withholding financial releases and penalty on Chief Executive Officers of the defaulting agencies. The government should act on the recommendations of the Auditor General’s report. Failure to do so will encourage public sector corruption in the MDAs. After all, the main duty of the Auditor-General’s office is to protect public interest by performing a detailed and objective examination of public accounts and also scrutinise MDAs expenditures.
All revenue generating agencies should comply with the provisions of Section 162 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In 2017, the Fiscal Responsibility Commission(FRC) decried the level of corruption in the MDAs. It revealed in its 2017 report that the MDAs defrauded the country of over N1trillion in seven years earlier. Based on the FRC report, the Ministry of Finance promised to closely monitor their operations. The minister’s assurance also came against the backdrop of another worrisome discovery of tax revenue shortfall by MDAs contractors between 2012 and 2017. Also, in 2016, the Federal Government sought the prosecution of 33 of its agencies over non-remittance of N450billion reportedly generated between 2010 and 2015. A recovery committee led by the Accountant General of the Federation was set up. Apart from recovering part of the money, it directed all MDAs to close their accounts with commercial banks and remit all revenues to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN).
We believe that the Auditor General’s report is a wake-up call to address public sector corruption which is undermining government’s effort to fight graft. Not acting on the recommendations of the Auditor-General will defeat the promise of the present administration to fight official corruption, particularly in the MDAs. Therefore, let the MDAs present their audited accounts before the end of every financial year so that the government can plan a seamless budget implementation.