The House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education has queried the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) over pre-budgetary spending, saying it and other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the government indulging in the act to stop it forthwith.
It declared that such practice by the commission and other MDAs violated the Fiscal Responsibility Act for accessing and spending funds before the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Act.
The committee, chaired by Honourable Zakari Mohammed gave the query and the warning in Abuja, on Thursday, during a meeting with the management of the commission to appraise the 2016 budget performance, in line with its oversight responsibilities.
At the meeting, which also had the management of the Teacher Registration Council in attendance, the Director of Finance with the Commission, Mallam Mohammed Sambo, had, while responding to a question by a member of the committee, given the indication that the commission had received almost 92 per cent of the 2016 budget allocation with 100 per cent utilisation.
Mallam Sambo told the committee that the commission started accessing funds for recurrent and other expenditures since March, 2016 from a budget that became operational in May.
According to him, “We get our funding based on what was appropriated. If the appropriation is N77 billion, we get N6 billion every month and in the first quarter, we would have gotten N18 billion.
When probed further on the practice, Sambo explained that the commission started accessing funds as early as March, 2016 even before the budget was passed.
However, in a swift reaction to the submission of the Director,, the Executive Secretary of the commission, Habib Bobboi, tried to exonerate himself from any complicity, as he said he came to UBEC on the August 4, and met a total of N300million in-balance, according to his handover note.
According to him, “There are a lot of contracts that were given under the matching grant with outstanding liabilities of over N800million.”
When asked if the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy did not apply to the commission with regards to the return of unused funds going back to the TSA since it started accessing funds in March, he explained that mopping up of funds did not necessarily hinder the commission in terms of ongoing projects, as funds accessed were expected to be fully utilised without being returned to the coffers.
The UBEC boss pointed that the inability of some states to utilise grants from the commission led to the incidence of unaccessed funds still lying untouched with UBEC.
Speaking further on the issue on grants imbalance, the Executive Secretary said the accumulation of unaccessed funds started from 2005 and they had always been accumulating.
According to him, “some states are up and others are behind without coming to access the funds because they lack the willingness to provide the counterpart funding, and that is why the funds accumulated
“There’s zero performance by states on Basic Education due to lack of accessibility to funds. Abia state has not accessed it’s matching grant for 4 years”, he said. He called for reduction of the matching grant to enable states meet up with themselves in terms of access due to the burden of counterpart contributions
“There are states in Nigeria that don’t pay serious attention to the issue of education beginning with basic education. The last time we met with States Universal Basic Education Commissions (SUBECs) in jos, I raised the issue of states needing to come forward to access funds lying fallow in UBEC which they need to finance basic education.
“And I specifically made mention of Abia which has at least N4billion with UBEC but has not come to access it. If not for the matching grant, at least, it can be used to enhance enrolment of the boy child in schools which is one basic area of concern in the south east.
“So while some states are doing very well in terms of availability of access to basic education, others don’t care at all,” he added.
One of the committee members, Honourable Kehinde Agboola, asked why other states were not being captured in the coverage area of UBEC, noting that Ekiti was not included.
Responding, Director of Finance, Mohammed Sambo said: “Normally the practice is to tell the states to send in their action plan upon which they can access the matching grant. On the issue of Ekiti, they still have that of 2014 pending unaccessed let alone 2016. Reason being that previous grants accessed was not up to 50 per cent utilisation, which is why Ekiti was not included in the 2016 plan.”
He also revealed that the state had a peculiar problem of liability to financial institution which was triggered following a change of leadership in the state. “In the case of Ekiti State, when the counterpart fund was paid and UBEC threw in its matching grant, the bank withdrew the counterpart fund the moment the former governor (Kayode Fayemi) lost election, and UBEC had no choice but to withdraw its matching grants,” he disclosed.
The committee then demanded for a detailed analysis of expenditure on what spent, and where, for the purpose of oversight visit, assessed ongoing capital projects.