Benue Assembly and challenges of extra budgetary expenditure

By Godwin Akor

For a long time, well meaning citizens of Benue State have emphasised the need for the state House of Assembly to look into audited accounts of the state government. Their concern is that local government officials were being indicted for misappropriating public funds but nothing was being said about misappropriation of funds in government ministries and extra ministerial departments.

However, the House of Assembly moved in the right direction on Tuesday, September 2 when it deliberated on audited report of expenditure made by government ministries and departments and discovered that extra budgetary expenditure totalling N7.3 billion was made in the year 2008.

After deliberation, one Onah Iduh was told to refund N1.3 million to the coffers of government because he did not retire imprest account. There may be many other cases of imprest not being retired, but the backlog of unaudited accounts for the years 2009, 2010,  2011, 2012 and 2013 is the writer’s source of worry.

One or two reasons may be given for the delay in the auditing of government accounts. For instance, if the books are not made available, auditing cannot take place. Secondly, the staff needed for auditing may be lacking just as the staff needed in the final accounts of the office of the Accountant General may be inadequate.

The House of Assembly raised concern over extra budgetary expenditure on Tuesday, but the problem is not the offence of spending outside budgetary provisions, it is the little or no impact the recommendation or directive of the House would have.

The present administration came into office in 2007 and in 2015 it would exit. When the commissioners and other officials that preside over the affairs of the offices leave, who would be held responsible for any misappropriation that may be discovered?

Ordinarily, permanent secretaries are supposed to be accounting officers in the various ministries but one wonders what the permanent secretary would do to facilitate the availability of the books of accounts for auditing by the auditors?

If the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance creates a conducive atmosphere for the auditing of accounts of various ministries and departments which are usually processed and made ready in the final accounts departments, would the permanent secretaries in the concerned ministries and departments be able to enforce the rule that accounts books should be made ready for onward submission to the Ministry of Finance on December 31 or March 31 as the case may be?

During the military regime, there was the committee for the recovery of public funds headed by a retired accountant. At that time, judicial commissions of enquiry were set up any time the auditor general of the state raised alarm about diversion of funds.

It is likely that if bodies such as the ones mentioned above are not established to see to the recovery of misappropriated or diverted funds, the effort of the House of Assembly towards recovering such funds may be in vain.

No one can at this time compare military to civilian regime but if democracy is to have desired impact on the populace, then, fraud must be checked. And if fraud must be checked, then, diverted funds must be recovered and paid into government treasury.

In effect, what one is saying is that the House should look into the possibility of pushing for the establishment of a public fund recovery committee backed up by a strong law.

It is when such machinery is put in place that the efforts of the House of Assembly in checking misappropriation of funds would have desired impact.

The suggestion is being made in view of the fact that in this political era, any effort made by the House towards recovering of public funds may be seen as antagonism or witch-hunting by those affected.

If the state government says extra budgetary expenditure is an offence, then, anyone involved in such expenditure should be sanctioned accordingly. In the past, the practice was that such expenditure must be approved through supplementary expenditure request or a warrant if the matter connected there in needed urgent attention.

The issue of extra budgetary expenditure and fraud should be a source of concern to both the Assembly and the Benue State government. Government officials at the state and local government levels should not be seen to be having the audacity to involve themselves in fraudulent practices with reckless abandon.

This is why those involved in extra budgetary expenditure should be queried by the House. At the time that government is complaining about leakages in revenue generation, why should some ministry and department generate money and spend it without getting necessary approval from the House?

Since the House of Assembly has started a good job of deliberating on audited accounts of government ministries and extra ministerial departments for 2008, it should request for audited accounts for 2009, 2010 and 2011 so that they could be looked into before the Seventh Assembly exits.


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