The Senate in Abuja has reaffirmed its support for a constitutional amendment to enhance the capacity of the Office of the Auditor-General at the federal and state levels in discharging its statutory responsibilities. The action followed a bill sponsored by Sen. Ahmed Lawan (ANPP-Yobe) seeking to place the Office of the Auditor-General on the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The bill, which passed its second reading, also seeks to empower the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to audit the accounts of statutory corporations, commissions, authorities and agencies of government, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC). The Senate referred the bill to its Committee on Constitution Review for necessary action. In his lead debate, Lawan identified poor funding over the years as a significant impediment to effectiveness of the Office of Auditor-General.
He said the office was now facing acute shortage of accommodation, inadequate and poorly trained personnel. He added that the paucity of funds had left workers in the office “at the mercy’’ of the “auditee” while discharging their statutory responsibilities. Lawan said that in other countries, the auditor-general’s office was funded through direct appropriation by the parliament.
“The task of providing adequate funding for the OAGF squarely lies with the parliament because the Executive Arm of Government is an ‘auditee’ and, therefore, would logically prefer an “underfunded”, weak, inefficient and ineffective office and this applies to the states,’’ he said. The senator also drew the attention of the lawmakers to sections 85 (3) and 125 (3) of the 1999 constitution(as amended ) which prevents the Office of the Auditor-General from auditing accounts of government statutory bodies at federal and state levels He said that this was contrary to the objectives of ensuring accountability, transparency and probity in the conduct of government business.
“Nigeria cannot win the war against corruption without a proper audit system. Today, numerous reported cases of monumental corruption involving billions and trillions of naira and many high profile looting of public treasury by some government officials have become a recurring decimal in our national life. All these would have been easily detected and nipped in the bud through audit, if the OAGF is adequately funded and has power for direct audit,’’ Lawan said.
In his contribution, Sen. Patrick Akinyelure (LP-Ondo) said the non-auditing of many government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) since 2009 had fuelled fraud and corruption in the public service. According to him, since 2009, less than 20 per cent of the accounts of MDAs have been audited. On his part, Sen. Atta Aidoko (ANPP-Kogi) said there was a deliberate attempt to make the OAGF subservient to the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
“The OAGF, which is a creation of the constitution, is currently using a rented building in Wuse, Zone 6, while the Office of the Accountant-General is sitting on a multi-billion naira complex in Garki 2, known as Treasury House,’’ he said. Sen. Abdul Ningi (PDP-Bauchi) said the budgetary provision of the office was “not up to the budget of a department in NNPC’’. Ningi expressed support for the bill that would empower the OAGF to have unrestricted access to financial information of big government establishments, such as NNPC and CBN. The Senate had earlier adopted the report of the conference committee on a bill to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 and for other related matters. The conference committee was set up to reconcile the areas of differences, which appeared in six clauses of the bill passed by both chambers. Sen. Mohammed Magoro (PDP-Kebbi), who chaired the committee, told the Senate that his group had resolved all areas of differences in the bill.