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How Federal Ministry Of Science & Technology Emerged Best Performing MDA In Nigeria - Eze Onyekpere

The importance of an effective audit regime in promoting probity, transparency and accountability in the management of public resources can not be overemphasised. Audit as the name implies is simply defined as a formal examination of an organisation's or individual's accounts or financial situation. It is the examination or inspection of various books of accounts by an auditor followed by physical checking of inventory to make sure that all departments are following documented system of recording transactions. It is done to ascertain the accuracy of financial statements provided by the organisation. Indeed, audit is a process that transverse the entire public finance management cycle from budget preparation, implementation up to reporting. It provides the empirical basis for Public finance management reforms as well as the basis for the determination of compliance with law law and policies . In Nigeria, the Auditor General for the federation is seen as an agent for accountability by facilitating legislative oversight over the expenditure and management of public finance as well as providing citizens with authoritative opinion of how well public finance has been managed. Section 85 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) establishes the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation and the federal audit function. The implication of this is that the provision is considered a very high priority and objective of state policy. Audit as a matter of fact is considered crucial for the entrenchment and consolidation of democratic principles and good governance, transparency and accountability, value for money as well as enhancement of development and continuous improvement of living standard. It is against this backdrop that Centre for Social Justice Limited by Guarantee (CSJ) a Nigeria non -governmental organization , in conjunction with European Union, Role of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC) Programme embarked on Audit Assessment Index (AAI) to portray its commitment toward improving effectiveness of federal audit processes and reforms in Nigeria. Addressing participants during the Award event and presentation of Audit Assessment Index (AAI) held in Abuja recently, lead director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Eze Onyekpere, said the AAI framework covered issues around Federal Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs's) performance in public sector audit. According to him, it focused on issues as contained in the Federal Audit Report 2014-2017 relating to MDAs performance in the various sections of the reports. He explained that the AAI focused on the operational performance of audit and follow-up on audit recommendations and was divided into the following seven parts namely: "Access to books, accounts and records, extra budgetary, unauthorized expenditure and failure in revenue generation as well as remittances. Others were public procurement and disposal infractions, unrestored loans and advances, monetary value of documented infractions and unauthorized deductions from the Federated Account. He further explained that sixteen Federal Ministry Headquarters which included: Agriculture and Rural Development, Aviation and Education. Others were: Environment, Health, Finance, Mines and Still Development, Power, Transport , Trade and Investment, Also, among the Ministries were Federal Ministries of Science and Technology and Water Resources, Women Affairs, Works and Housing , Youths and Sports Development as well as Labour and Employment were assessed in the pilot edition of the AAI. The other are four agencies namely: Nigeria Customs Services, Department of Petroleum Resources, Federal Inland Revenue Services and Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Onyekpere disclosed that the agencies were the revenue generating agencies included in the assessment to underscore the importance of revenue through generation and appropriate remittance to the Federation Account. On the methodology used for the assessment, Onyekpere, a fiscal expert also, the facilitator of the project said the AAI was designed from the presumption that the Auditor General for the Federation Audit reports constituted the best primary evidence for the assessment of the performance of MDAs and whether they were complaint to the fundamental objectives and demands of financial compliance, value for money and other audit demands. According to him, the assessment focused on the audit reports for the four years 2014 to 2017. It also proceeded from the assumption that the Audit General for the Federation could be implemented by information from the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee in the Senate and House of Representatives. He recalled that in preparing and issuing an annual report, the Auditor General for the Federation had reviewed the financial books, documents and other relevant information of MDAs , sought clarification, issued audit queries and reviewed responses before arriving at an opinion. Saying even though audit is not a trial , but the fundamental rules of fair hearing -getting all relevant information and affording party the opportunity to be heard and to make a presentation in the proceedings is observed. Onyekpere explained that in accordance with the Lima Declaration, the Auditor General for the Federation gave due consideration to the point of view of the audited MDAs in its findings, stressing that a further opportunity is also afforded in the Public Accounts Committee proceedings. The lead director who admitted that there was no need for gathering of primary data including administering questionnaires on MDAs or conducting oral interviews said the benchmarking and scoring of the Audit Assessment Index were there based on the annual reports of the Auditor General for the Federation for the years 2014- 2017 focusing on compliance and infractions that led to remedial and process recommendations by the Auditor General of the Federation . On how the MDAs emerged victorious in the Audit Assessment Index, the Centre boss disclosed that using the Audit Assessment Index Template and Weight Average Scoring Framework, selected Ministries, Departments and Agencies were assessed with the average computed in relation to 100 percent, adding that the ranged from 0-100 points, where 100 is the highest level of good audit practice and zero denotes the absence of good audit practice. Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology emerged the overall winner of the Audit Assessment Index with the highest score of 95.69 percent on top of 20 Ministries , Department and Agencies (MDAs ) selected on bases of their respective contributions and importance to economic growth and development of the country. Followed by the Federal Ministry of Environment with 90.63 per cent, Transport 89.21 percent , Labour and Employment 86.94 percent as well as Women Affairs with 82.16 percent to complete the 5 top performing Ministries. Others on the list include: Federal Ministries of Finance, Budget and National Planning, 81.78 percent, Education-68.88 percent, Youth and Sports- 67.22 percent, Aviation-65.59 per cent and Water Resources 64.88 percent to complete the top ten. While the Ministries of Trade and Investment scored 59.13 percent, Works and Housing 54.44 per cent and Health with 52.75 percent to obtain the least scores. Speaking with newsmen shortly after the end of the event, the Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere said that the Audit Assessment Index project was aimed at providing further evidence to be used as an advocacy took in the efforts to improve the current audit regime in the country. He explained that the Audit Assessment of index was anchored on the fact that beyond the annual reports of the Auditor General for the Federation and the legislative hearing in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) audit was a closed affair that hardly attracts public attention. According to him, it virtually starts and ends with two reports Auditor General for the Federation annual report and Public Account Committee report-as a government initiative. Hence, the need for an independent civil society intervention that recognizes good performance while encouraging moderate and poor performing Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to strive for excellence. He stated that , "although the Audit Assessment Index is an instrument for all times, there can be no better time to engage in Assessment and present same to the public than now when Nigeria has entered a second recession within five years. Recession , Onyekpere said was coming at a time of more than "quadruple whammy with increased national indebtedness , reduced revenue inflow, double digital inflation, reduced foreign reserves, rising unemployment and youth restiveness as well as accelerated insecurity across the country. The lead director who recalled that Nigeria has been designated the poverty capital of the world, said there was over N10 trillion in unrecovered and outstanding public monies compiled in federal audit reports. "There is therefore the need to block leakages in the system, strengthen processes and systems through empirical adherence to rules, guarantee value for money and make the best use of available resources. Onyekpere added. Earlier, while presenting the Audit Assessment Index, Fidelis Onyejegbu, Programme Officer and Public Finance Management, CSJ, disclosed that the overall goal of assessing federal MDAs using the AAI was to promote rule and evidence -based public finance management system across federal MDAs in the country. According to him, through the assessment, good performing MDAs will be encouraged to continue in their tradition and even improve on same while poorly performing MDAs will be challenged to improve their performance. "It is a benchmarking exercise where MDAs share, peer review and learn from the successes of the best in class. It is a reform tool that encourages a race to the heights rather than the current race to the bottom. " Adding, that It seeks to discourage and reverse perverse incentives by demonstrating that Nigerians recognize and appreciate good public finance management practices. In his remarks, Charles Abana of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission called for sanctions against those MDAs found wanting, saying for how long will we continue with such situation, something has to be done. According to him, Just four years, 2014 - 2017, we are talking about trillions of Naira unaccounted for, over spending and unauthorized spending as well as all manner of things. Adding, that the government needs to step up the issue of sanction. The event tagged, "Presentation of the Audit Assessment Index was all about the project, "Improving the effectiveness of Federal Audit Process and Practice. It featured Goodwill Messages, Presentation of the 'Audit Assessment Index' and Presentation of Awards to best performing MDAs. Participants were drawn from Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Nigeria as well as friends and well wishers.

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