House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to refund the sum of N73billion allegedly released to it for the conduct of the 2015 general elections.
The House Committee stated on Tuesday that the extra N73 billion was allegedly released by the Accountant General of the Federation to INEC for the 2015 elections against the N45billion approved for the commission.
Chairman of the committee, Wole Oke, and other members, therefore, insisted that INEC refund the money to the treasury.
The committee also accused the Accountant General of the Federation of engaging in extra-budgetary expenditure contrary to the powers conferred on his office by approving additional funds for the conduct of the 2015 general elections.
The lawmakers also asked the AGF to provide a balance of N16.9billion from another N36.9billion approved for INEC by the Presidency out of which only N10 billion was paid to INEC by the Accountant-General’s office for the election.
According to the chairman of the committee, the approval of N107.7 billion for INEC as well as the disbursement of the additional N73 billion against the N45 billion budgeted was an abuse of office by the Accountant-General who is in charge of the public treasury.
The chairman added that another audit query from the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation indicated that another N37,428 million was also withdrawn from the 10 per cent rice milling funds for the election.
“The Accountant-General should explain the direct deduction of the fund from the Federal Government’s account,” he said.
AGF, INEC’s position
But representative of the AGF, who is the Director of Accounts, Emma Olawale, said the funds given to INEC were approved by the then President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
Olawale said, the AGF office wrote to the Presidency and then Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and got the approval to advance the funds to INEC.
On her part, the then Acting INEC Chairperson, at the time of the release, Mrs Amina Zakari, told the committee that her office wrote to the Presidency and the Accountant-General’s office and got approval for the funds.
She added that INEC wasn’t mandated by laws to refund any fund approved for it for election purposes.
The lawmakers insisted that the approval of the funds by the Accountant-General’s office was in breach of the financial regulations.
The committee’s chairman, however, demanded that the request and approval memo of the funds be made available to the committee.
He asked the Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, to appear before the probe panel at the next adjourned date for clarifications.
Customs reacted On the other hand, the Comptroller General (CG) of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd) faulted the claim by the Accountant General that the N38.6 billion released to the service in 2014 was a loan.
He said the money was part of the statutory budget of the service, which represents an intervention fund, that was duly appropriated for in its budget for the year and was not meant to be a loan.
Ali said a presidential directive to the Accountant General approved the payment, adding that the final amount was N67 billion short of the over N100 billion approved for the service to meet the contingency of the time.
However, Olawale, who represented the AGF at the hearing, said following the presidential directive to make the money available to the NCS, the office made extra-budgetary mopping up of funds from other sources to meet up the payment.
He said that, in consultations with the Director of Budget, it was decided that the payment be turned into a loan to be recovered from the agency’s following year’s budgetary allocations.
However, the Customs’ CG maintained that there was no time the service was informed that the money so approved and released to it was a loan. The Committee Chairman, therefore, demanded evidence of having recovered the said loan over the years and directed the Director of Budget to appear alongside the AGF at the committee’s next sitting to clear the air on the issue.