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Strengthening Public Sector Audit Process

the annual reports of the Auditor General have continued to make reference to the 1956 Act.

Audit is not an end in itself; it is the concluding part in an effective public financial management system as typified by the budgeting process. To this end, it is fitting that the office of the Auditor General for the Federation (or for the states as the case may be) be properly enabled and empowered to discharge his vital duties as an office is as effective as the law that set it up.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 in s.85 (1) and (2) established the office of the Auditor General for the Federation with the power to audit the public accounts of all offices and courts of the federation. The office is saddled with the responsibility of auditing the financial statements of all government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) after all expenditures in a fiscal year.

It has been found, however, that some relevant provisions that would strengthen audit are yet to be captured in the extant laws. In addition to this is the debatable validity of the extant Audit Act of 1956 as the Laws of the Federation 1990 had failed to reproduce it and by s.5 (1) of the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria), the Act ceased to be part of Nigerian Laws.

This notwithstanding, the annual reports of the Auditor General have continued to make reference to the 1956 Act. The Act itself has become obsolete and urgently needs updating to capture the current auditing practice needs as stipulated by the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institution (INTOSAI) which Nigeria is party to.

Furthermore, recent efforts to strengthen the powers of the Auditor General for the Federation have been unsuccessful. The proposed bills to replace the 1956 Act were declined assents by successive presidents and according to legislative due process, bills do not outlive the assembly that initiated them; they would essentially have to start anew.

Worthy of mention of all three experiences is the experience of 2019 when the proposed Federal Audit Service Commission Bill (2018), having been approved by the 8th National Assembly, received neither presidential assent nor refusal against the stipulated procedure of giving assent or refusal to a bill with reasons within 30 days of receiving it from the National Assembly. These developments point to the fact that a more concerted effort is needed from stakeholders, reformers and the civil society actors, in order to push through the bottleneck(s) that have been bedeviling the enhancement of the effectiveness of the audit process.

As a result of the above, some agencies of government have repeatedly flouted audit rules without repercussions and some agencies do not even bother to respond to audit queries sent to them by the Auditor General for the Federation.

Moreso, similar infractions/offences by the agencies and recommendations of the auditor general that were contained in the past audit reports have kept reoccurring and the mechanism to address these, as has been highlighted above, needs strengthening.

To address the foregoing, enactment of a new audit legislation that would spell out harsher punishments for offenders and accord relevant powers to the Auditor General for the Federation to discharge his duties more effectively is of the essence. The new legislation should also look at the independence of the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation as no meaning audit work can be done without it. Key anticorruption agencies – EFCC and ICPC – are to stand up to the responsibility of following up instances of financial infractions in public service as stipulated in the relevant legislations such as the Financial Regulations.

 

Fidelis Onyejegbu is the Programme Officer, Public Finance Management, Centre for Social Justice