ABUJA — The House of Representatives yesterday accused ministers and other appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari of undermining the government’s efforts to fight corruption in the country.
It particularly called out the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Budget Office of the Federation and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, PAC, Wole Oke, who gave the reprimand during the 2023 budget defence with Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, spoke against the backdrop of disclosure by the Auditor-General of the Federation, Andrew Onwudili, that his office proposed a total budget of N11.151 billion for 2023 which the Budget Office slashed to N5.112 billion..
According to him, the office had proposed a personnel cost of N3.041 billion against the N2.349 billion contained in the budget.
He said also that the N5.59 billion proposed for overhead costs was slashed to N2.113 billion by the Budget Office, while the N2.52 billion proposal for capital expenditure was again reduced to N62.70 million.
The figures infuriated the committee chairman who became livid with authorities in the fiscal policies of the country, accusing them of stalling the fight against corruption.
Efforts to get the reaction of the Presidency proved abortive, as a top official of the Presidency who preferred anonymity, said only the Minister of Information can speak on the issue.
However, the Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, could not also be reached as his mobile telephone lines were switched off.
But Oke said office of the Auditor-General was supreme in the fight against corruption, stressing that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corruption Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, were merely ancillary.
The committee chairman, therefore, summoned the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; Acting Accountant General of the Federation, Sylva Okolieaboh, Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Nwabueze; and the Head of Service, Folashade Yemi-Esan, giving them seven days ultimatum to appear and explain why the budget of such a strategic office was toyed with.
He said: “It is very important at this point in time to state clearly our observations. We want to observe that the government of President Buhari was elected based on his promise, determination to tame corruption in our country.
“One of the institutions, as a matter of fact, the fundamental institution which the crafters of our constitution put in place under Section 85 is the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation. By Act of the parliament, we have created ancillary institutions such as ICPC, EFCC to work with the findings of the Office of the Auditor-General after due considerations by the Parliament.
“It is very unfortunate that we have noticed the concerted effort and determination to undermine the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to eradicate, repeal illegally the supreme audit institution of this country.
“We have seen the determination of the lieutenants of Mr President, particularly the Minister of Finance, the D-G, Budget Office to undermine Mr President in his determination to wage war against corruption on the land.
“Otherwise, why would you allocate several billions to ancillary institutions and you are giving N62 million to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation to fund Ccapital? They have to go cap in hand to pay workers?
‘’They are understaffed, they are undermined? They cannot conduct performance audit. As we speak, this office is yet to lay their reports in respect of 2022 and 2021 financial years.
“We are saying we are determined to wage war against corruption. We cannot see how we intend to achieve the objectives, based on which budget is formulated, speaking to law, facts and issues. ‘
‘The Procurement Act, Section 2021 (18) taking together, is the bedrock for budget formulation. In Sub-Section 18, an agency of government is expected to conduct needs assessment, conduct market survey, arrive at your needs and ensure they are embedded in the annual budget.
“If the Auditor-General of the Federation has conducted needs assessment in terms of personnel, in the areas of working tools and have offices in all the 36 states and the FCT and they came to the conclusion about what they need and submit same to the Budget Office, and the Budget Office violated that same principle, Procurement Act and now reduced the capital requirements of this agency to N62 million, reduced their overhead by N3 billion and gave the agencies of government that are doing virtually nothing billions of naira, there is no other way to tell Mr. President that his lieutenants are working against him.
“Or, are they telling Nigerians, that even the objectives laid by Mr. President is determined to undermine this supreme audit institution? Otherwise, Mr. President would have assented that bill presented to him, and this would have given the Auditor General’s office its rightful place in our country.
“We reject this budget. This budget cannot work. The Accountant-General of the Federation, the minister of finance are hereby summoned to appear before this committee to tell Nigerians why this is so.
‘’The minister for finance, the DG Budget, the Accountant General of the Federation, the three of them should cause appearance before this committee and tell Nigerians why they are undermining the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation. Why the office has not been staffed? Why they are not being given the tools required to work, to weed offcorruption in the land?
“They have to tell Nigerians why the EFCC and ICPC are being funded more than the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation? We will not accept it. It can’t be business as usual.
“We are here to support the President in his bid to humble corruption, weed corruption out of the land. We owe him a duty of care to expose any of his lieutenants working against him. This is our position.
“Auditor General, you have to re-appear when the minister of finance, the DG Budget office and the Accountant General are here. They have to tell Nigerians why they are funding agencies created by the Act of Parliament and under-fund a constitutional body? And I am giving them seven days to appear please.
“Your budget performance has been submitted to sub-committee for review. Our findings will be communicated to you. Include the Head of Service in the summon”.
Senate summons Finance Minister over N147bn multilateral/billateral project in Power Ministry Budget
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday summoned the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, over the N147 billion included in the capital project of the Ministry of Power.
Speaking during the budget defence of Ministry of Power in Abuja, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Senator Gabriel Suswam, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Benue North East, who invited the minister, said the invitation became imperative against the backdrop of the fact that the committee could not explain how the fund for the bilateral/ Multilateral project in power sector was being expended.
Suswan said: “ The actual capital budget of the ministry of power for 2023 is N44 billion, while N147 billion is meant for bilateral and multilateral projects.
“We cannot explain how they are being expended; you cannot lay your hand on the projects; we cannot oversight it, the Ministry of Power does not know about it.
“We are inviting the minister of finance to come, explain to us, the money has been put in the budget year in, year out.’’
The Minister of Power, Engr Abubakar Aliyu, presented a budget of N250 billion for the ministry.