Members of the United States House of Representatives on Tuesday expressed serious concerns about the inability of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) to provide accurately documented evidence of internally generated revenues from various federal agencies, parastatals and committees.
The lawmakers who expressed their dismay at the resumed investigative hearing held at the initiative of the House Committee on Finance chaired by Hon. Abiodun James Faleke frowned at the discrepancies between the financial data presented by the National Oil Spill Detection Response Agency (NOSDRA) of the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) and the Nigerian Electricity Trading (NBET) and the Auditor General’s office of the Federation.
The problems started when ECN’s Director of Finance and Accounts, Mr Cletus Nnah, announced that the Commission, as a fully funded institution, had transferred N13.6 million while trading fresh produce. Okolieaboh Sylvia argued that the amount of N27,820,940 had been transferred by the Commission.
Mr Sylva, who was represented by the Deputy Director, Income and Investment, Mr Ambrose Amayi, said: “In 2021, the Commission transferred N27,820,940. They paid nothing in 2022.
“Sometimes when these agencies pay their money to the TSA subhead in the CBN, we issue a receipt when they sign up. They let us know they paid so we can give them a receipt. When we get to our advances from the CBN we see a bulk overview and we don’t know which agency is making the payment and so we usually have to wait.
“Therefore, there is always a delay because we have to go to the REMITA platform to find out which agency made the payment. We use their evidence to track it down, reconcile it and issue a receipt.
Unfortunately, some of these REMITA receipts are not reliable. You can generate an invoice for REMITA, but that REMITA is not actually there. We always take extra precautions.”
Provoked by the controversy, Hon. Faleke, who asked for evidence of various payments made by the Agency, said: “The burden is actually on them to prove that they made the payment because if you go for reconciliation, what are you agreeing to? Do you only verbally say that you have paid? So you need to show us the evidence so we can put the blame on the accountant general. According to your records, you have transferred more than N2 billion, but after that you have no records of any further transfers.’
For his part, Hon. John Dyeh (PDP-Benue), who demanded that the committee provide the committee with details of all expenditures made by the committee between 2020 and 2021, said: “How do you come to parliament to claim that you have made a payment without proof? to prove you paid?
“Recurring grants received, N2.4 billion in 2021, IGR N13 million, operating expenses N2.46 billion, I mean we need to have details of the expenditure; you have received N2.4 and you have spent all, we need to see the details, Nigerians need to see these details.
“In the same 2021, counter-grants, N5.7, Capital Expenditure, N6.9, we need to see the details, we need to see the details President, we need to see the details.
“In 2020, same story, recurring grant received N2.2, IGR – N14 million, operating expenses, N2.26, haba, haba, finance director, we need to see the details, we need to see the details,” he said.
Commenting on the allegations, Fresh Produce Representative, Deputy Director, Revenue and Investment Mr Ambrose Amayi said: “We have a copy of the statement from the Central Bank. We sometimes find it difficult to identify entities that have paid. That’s why we told them to come identify themselves every time they pay so we can give them a receipt. CBN’s statement is not too explicit. We have codes for the agencies, but the CBN doesn’t use the code.
The Deputy Director of Sub Treasury, Mr. Dangina, also said, “these monies are paid to CBN using the TSA subhead. When the money comes, it comes in the form of a bulkhead. Then what we do is go to the REMITA platform, use the generated debit advice or RRR and try to unbundle all the agencies that paid so we can match them.
“But that takes some time. The problem we have is that CBN’s narration is mostly bad and so we had to rely on REMITA. What the agencies should do is indicate to us that they have made the payment. We have filed a complaint with CBN.”
Concerned by the development, Hon. Faleke argued that: “These agencies are not supposed to communicate with you about that. CBN is supposed to inform you. I remember this is the same situation as last year and yet we have so much money unidentified and the next thing you hear is money missing in the system.
“If you can’t track the sources of money, the money will easily leave the system. We must take this task more seriously, because this country is bleeding. Every kobo is important to us right now. It doesn’t matter how much is generated, but we have to make sure the money gets where it’s supposed to be. We cannot continue to have money in the system that no one takes into account.”
In his intervention, Hon. Emphasizing the need to conduct a status inquiry into the affection settings, Stanley Olajide said: “I think a status inquiry is actually necessary as it is unfortunate that this is happening. How can we have money that is in CBN and we don’t know which agency should get the money?
“We need to go deep and find out what’s going on here. Every year these agencies come here for a piece of the pie and we borrow money to fund them. Received N2 billion in grant and you are talking about a one percent return on investment? Who does that? There is now a committee that talks about merging these agencies. If an agency refuses to perform the way we want it to, I think it’s time we merged them into something else,” he insisted.
In her comments, Hon. Taiwo Oluga, who frowned at the down-to-earth attitude of some accounting officers, said: “It is good to be aware and Nigerians should know this, that all agencies, especially the Accountant General’s office, are addressing our problem in this to be country. Nigerians will call it the politicians, but look what has just been read.
“So, it’s good that we let Nigerians know that those of you we’ve put at the helm of things in the various agencies, especially the Accountant General’s office at the CBN, are our problems in this country. The youngsters need to know so that when the next EndSARS starts they know where to go’, Hon. Oluga emphasized.
While reigning, Hon. Faleke, who expressed serious concern about the ongoing crises in the oAGF, also blamed the commission.
He said: “First and foremost, we have responsibility for the office of the Accountant General. The Finance Committee oversees the Accountant General’s office and as much as I like to say it, I think we should take some of the blame.
“If we had hit you hard on surveillance, I’m sure you would have been different.
Be that as it may, what we saw between Monday and Tuesday is not too appetizing. I’ve heard it before that the office has been in the news for the wrong reason in recent weeks.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and look at all these things that we’ve highlighted and work out a plan to bridge the gap. What we’re getting from you is not acceptable.
“On Monday we agreed that we will provide us with all the data we need to work, but you are not fully armed here. I can’t understand why, in this time and age, why our operation still has to be manual, you hand over the receipt manually.
“What we get from all this is that the office has created a window to reduce the bends because when you do things manually, we know what you’re doing. We have to take this home that in this day and age this is not acceptable to do things manually. Everywhere you go, people go online.
“In this country where we are fed a series of challenges, the private sector is booming, the banks work very well, lots of money. How are they going to survive if, with everything the government has done, we’re still having a hard time? If we make the decision to make this country work, it will certainly work and it will start with individuals and agencies,” the Hon. noted Faleke.
ALSO READ FROM CRYPTOGIST
Representatives Charge Accountant General Over Inaccurate Financial Records From MDAs