Barely 24 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a probe of the activities of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) following the suspension of the agency’s managing director, Hadiza Bala Usman, over alleged remittance shortfalls to the tune of N165.3bn, the Senate has raised the alarm over another unremitted N2trillion revenue by some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the federal government.
Against the backdrop of the alleged non-remittance of government revenues by defaulting revenue-generating agencies, the Senate committee on Finance is currently investigating the revenue transmittals by over 700 MDAs of the federal government.
Chairman of the Senate committee on Finance, Senator Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos West), revealed that over N2trillion of generated revenue of the government may have been trapped in the MDAs or already spent on frivolous expenditures contrary to the 1999 constitution (as amended) and the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007.
Adeola gave the hint at the weekend when the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed; director-general of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; auditor-general of the federation, Idris Ahmed, and other heads of MDAs appeared before the Senate committee during the ongoing probe of revenue remittances by MDAs between 2014 to 2020 and payment of 1% Stamp Duty on all contract awards by the MDAs within the same period.
The lawmaker said the Senate probe panel had invited the minister, the DG of Budget office and the accountant-general of the federation to brief them on the discoveries of the committee in the course of the over four-week investigation.
He noted that many agencies committed all manner of illegalities relating to the expenditure of government funds that should rightly be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).
“Honourable minister, in view of the huge budget deficits accompanying our yearly budgets and the resort to huge borrowing to finance these deficits, the committee decided to probe the revenue remittances by agencies of government, as the government cannot continue to borrow yearly while the revenue from agencies that the government is financing with the borrowings are spent contrary to the laws of the land,” Adeola said.
He told the Finance minister that from submissions already made during committee sittings and computations from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC), about 60 government-owned enterprises (GOEs) may have about N2trillion of government revenue still unremitted in their coffers or already spent on frivolous expenditure extant laws.
He said since the commencement of the investigations, some agencies have been directed- and many of them have complied- to pay back tens of millions of naira with receipts from the Office of the accountant-general of the federation.
He noted: “There is no gainsaying the fact that if these revenues are paid to the CRF for proper appropriation by the parliament during budget considerations, we are going to reduce dramatically the size of our deficit and hopefully minimise our borrowing.
“We cannot continue to run government business as we used to do in this time when there are huge demands for government to fund needed infrastructure and other socio-economic programmes”.
Senator Adeola further revealed that the investigation also led to the willing exit of some agencies, notably among them NAFDAC, NigComSat, NOTAP and NEREC, from the budget of the government while relying on their generated revenue to fund aspects of their operations.
This, he said, would reduce their dependence on the national budget and assist in reducing budget deficits.
Responding, the minister of Finance commended the Senate committee for the ongoing probe, acknowledging that in recent times there had been noticeable increase in revenue from agencies directed to pay in their revenue to the CRF as required by the law.
She said the executive arm of government was also scrutinising the application of the template of calculating and deducting operating surpluses by agencies of government to ensure that the right amounts are paid to the government’s coffers.
For his part, the DG Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, explained that the issue of operating surpluses does not apply to any government agencies that are fully funded by the government.
According to him, all revenue generated by such agencies must be paid in full into the CRF, even as it is illegal to spend a dime of such money without appropriation by the National Assembly.
The Senate committee set up a committee comprising representatives from the offices of the minister of Finance, Budget Office, accountant-general of the federation, auditor-general of the federation and the Fiscal Responsibility Commission to reconcile the accounts of some agencies running into billions of naira with a view to determining how much is due to the CRF following contradictions in their earlier submissions.