Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Service Wide Vote: N114 billion controversial releases

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan
IT sounds so bizarre that allocations to some Federal Government agencies in excess of N114 billion have been lost in transit. But for a parliamentary inquest, the public would not even have known this. For President Goodluck Jonathan, always dismissive of the abysmal level of corruption in the country, this matter presents further evidence. Since March 14, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts has been quizzing officials of the Budget Office, Central Bank of Nigeria, Police Force, Ministry of Police Affairs and Office of the Head of Service of the Federation on this tangled skein.
 At the behest of the President, Lamido Sanusi, the suspended Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, had remitted N19.7 billion to the Ministry of Police Affairs, for the police to buy “armoured helicopters and security equipment.” Sanusi stated this in his reply to the government’s allegation of financial recklessness against him. Curiously, both the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, and the ministry, told the House committee that they did not see the cash.
Similarly, the OHSF said it received just N17.6 billion out of the N52 billion purportedly released to it from the Service Wide Vote, between 2004 and 2012. Details of the allocations are as follows: N2.7 billion (2004); N9.8 million (2005); N701.7 million (2006); N896.3 million (2007); N5.3 billion (2008); N612.9 million and N70 million in 2009; N17.6 billion (2010); N13.6 billion in 2011; and N8.5 billion in 2012. It is apparent from these figures that only the 2010 allocation reached the OHSF. So, where is the balance of N35 billion?
Another N59.6 billion, which the Budget Office paid to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation as subsidy, as acknowledged by the Accountant-General of the Federation, Jonah Otunla, and passed through the CBN, is missing in transit.

Nigeria’s public accounting system has been replete with this depravity since 1999. It has created emergency billionaires; made the delivery of basic social services to the citizenry absolutely impossible. Most unnerving is that the government, which primarily exists to maintain law and order, watches idly as the looters walk away with the loot from the treasury. The facts laid bare by the Public Accounts Committee are enough to get the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission cracking.
Sadly, no such thing is happening. The government agencies entangled in this drama, as of last Thursday, failed to submit all the documents the committee needed to get to the root of the matter, forcing it to issue a 24-hour ultimatum to them to appear before it.  The committee, chaired by Solomon Olamilekan, is frustrated as this screamer indicates, “We are tired of all the excuses of all the agencies involved in claiming ignorance at one stage or the other.”
Barefaced plundering of the public treasury and lack of accountability in our system have become staples of discussion in the global arena. It is so awful that even some foreigners can no longer stand it, evident when Bisa Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, United States Department of State, recently stated, “Corruption is extremely widespread in this country, and there is no polite way to say this.”
She is dead right. Interestingly, Deliotte, an international accounting firm, has affirmed that the amount in question was disbursed. So, into what account was the money paid? The Service Wide Vote, from which N52 billion was allegedly remitted to the OHSF between 2004 and 2012, according the parliament’s findings, is an official conduit for stealing public funds. Instead of the N2.1 trillion approved by the National Assembly for the nine-year period, government spent N4.7 trillion.
Without question, siphoning N2.6 trillion out of the Federation Account without the approval of the parliament is an obvious breach of the 1999 Constitution. It is the height of official irresponsibility and an assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians. Inscrutably, however, the same parliament, which uncovered this Executive excesses, has remained silent since then.
Accountability is an irreducible part of public office. Unfortunately, this has yet to be coded in our country’s DNA. This is shameful. The presidents, ministers of finance and DG Budgets, whose office terms spanned this pillaging, must be made to set the records straight in this matter. This is how institutions are strengthened.
In Israel, its former president, Ehud Olmert, has just been convicted and fined $19,000 for collecting a bribe. There are other high ranking ex-public officials in the same country, Italy, Japan, France etc, gaoled for their misdeeds while in office, just as we have seen sitting presidents elsewhere quizzed for official misconduct.
After spending $35 billion on electricity infrastructure in the past 10 years, according Chinedu Nebo, the Minister of Power, generation dropped to 2,500 megawatts by March 24. Corruption is at the root of it. This oddity triggered a United Nations letter to Jonathan in November last year, stressing, “The failure of the state to provide basic services such as electricity is a violation of the right to health.” A citizen denied the right to health, invariably, is denied the right to life.
The mysterious disappearance of N114 billion explains why the government borrows for practically every project; or looks for public-private partnerships for its primary duties. It borrowed $1.6 billion for the four refineries repairs in 2012, which did not deliver the promised result; collected a $350 million loan from General Electric in February; China is funding our railways overhaul; just as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second River Niger Bridge are waiting for private investors.
Given this sad reality, the House must expose those behind this sleaze; otherwise, it stands accused once more of complicity in corruption.
Source: Punch

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