Nigeria’s quest for good governance will become a reality when transparency and accountability become the watchwords of all public office holders in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s war on corruption, the Auditor-General for the Federation, Mr. Anthony Mkpe Ayine, has declared. Mr. Ayine made the declaration in Lagos (on Friday, July 7, 2017) at the opening of a two-day retreat hosted by the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation in collaboration with the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly. Stating that the citizens of any country are the “ultimate owners” of the country’s resources, which must be managed for their benefit by government, Mr. Ayine stressed that financial resources in particular are of special interest to all, and as such, “when these resources are effectively, efficiently and economically managed for the benefits of the citizenry, good governance is said to exist.”
He declared: “But good governance rests on some key pillars,” saying “critical amongst them are transparency and accountability.”
According to the nation’s Auditor-General, “you cannot have good governance when these pillars (transparency and accountability) are lacking.” While commending President Buhari “for his firm and principled stand on the anti-corruption war in Nigeria,” Mr. Ayine added that “corruption thrives under a hidden environment.” Explaining that the concept of public accountability has a process, he stated: “Parliament entrusts government of the day with public funds; the government of the day in turn reports back to parliament how these resources have been used or utilised,” saying in between this process lies two critical bodies which are at the heart of public accountability, these being “the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation (OAuGF).”
According to Mr. Ayine, as much of the work of the National Assembly is carried out by committees, one of the most powerful and important of such committees, is the Public Accounts Committee, which he said “is constitutionally provided for as a standing committee.” Speaking further he stated: “PAC essentially seeks to ascertain to what extent revenues have been collected and expenditure incurred in the manner government or the legislature approved or intended; PAC uses auditor-general’s report(s) and oversight functions to examine accounting officers and other persons entrusted with the receipts and utilisation of funds and other assets. “At the end of its consideration of Auditor-General’s report(s), PAC submits a report of its conclusions and recommendations (guided by auditor-general’s recommendations) to the whole house, (the National Assembly).
Speaking further, he said ideally as it is the practice in developed economies, within 90 days of submission of PAC’s report and consideration by the National Assembly “the Executive Arm is required to respond in form of a memorandum, indicating what actions have been taken or proposed to be taken in relation to PAC’s findings and recommendations, thus completing the accountability cycle.” Mr. Ayine stated further that PAC’s scrutiny of the national accounts facilitated by the auditor-general’s report(s) “provides an integral part of public accountability.” In his words, “the fundamental function of the auditor-general is the protection of public interest, through a detailed and objective examination of public accounts and timely reporting to the legislature, to enable it ascertain how the resources entrusted to government have been utilised. “Independent audit carried out by the auditor-general helps to give assurance; public accountability is diminished without such independent audits. PAC on the other hand, assists parliament in ensuring that public funds are used in keeping with the intentions of government, particularly as regards economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the use of such funds. “PAC also has to consider to what extent the desired outputs, outcomes and impacts have been achieved. PAC’s role, therefore, is not only complementary to that of the auditor-general, but when properly played, helps to strengthen the Office of the Auditor-General,” he declared, and added:
“It is mainly against the foregoing reasons that a close working relationship with the PACs of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, is not negotiable.
“Harmonious relationship (between the OAuGF and the PACs) is vital in the interest of good governance, transparency and greater public accountability in Nigeria”. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, in a goodwill message delivered by the Chairman, House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee, Honourable Ogundu Kingsley Chinda, told the audience that: “Transparency and accountability issues cut across tribe, religion, ethnicity, political party, country of origin; it’s like environmental issues. So, once it’s taking place in Nigeria, it affects any other person even in any other part of the world.” According to him, the essence of government and governance is tied to transparency and accountability. His words: “All the problems that we have in our country today, ranging from militancy to Boko Haram in the north east are all based on the issues of injustice, which is also hinged on transparency and accountability. “If we are more transparent and more accountable, there is no doubt that we will be able to tackle almost all the problems that besiege us today. Nigeria is talking about restructuring; the only reason is because we are not sufficiently transparent in our transactions and in our relationship with one another.”
Honourable Chinda said the theme of “Partnership between the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation and the Public Accounts Committees: A must for the entrenchment of transparency and accountability in a growing democracy,” speaks to the critical need for both parties to collaborate to tackle the issues of transparency and accountability for the good of the country at large. According to Chinda, “The issue of accountability and transparency to me is a war, it is a battle; and we are all soldiers in that battle. With the Auditor-General and the Public Account Committee, we are generals in the war. And if you are in battlefield, the command of course is always ‘no retreat, no surrender.’”
The retreat, which was supported by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), has several senators and members of House of Representatives in attendance, including Senator Gbolahan Dada, Vice Chairman, Senate Public Accounts Committee, who represented the committee’s chairman, Senator Andy Uba, as well as the Auditor-General of Ghana, Mr. Daniel Yaw Domelevo, Deputy Auditor-General of Sierra Leone, Tamba Momoh and Dr. Rasheed Draman of the West African Association of Public Accounts Committees (PACs).