FG’s directive on daily financial statements

PENULTIMATE week, President Muhammadu Buhari, as part of the Federal Government’s plan to enthrone greater transparency in government business, directed the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) to publish daily financial statements of Federal Government transactions. The directive was given in Abuja during the launching of a new Financial Transparency Policy/Open Treasury Portal designed to give Nigerians access to information on fiduciary matters, improve accountability and transparency in public financial management. Buhari, who was represented on the occasion by the Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, stated that his administration was committed to full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 so that government-held datasets could be made available and used by the media and the public at large, adding that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) were required to promptly respond to additional requests for information beyond whatever was published.

According to the president, “with these reports, the treasury will publish payments of at least N10 million, while all MDAS must publish payments above N5 million made out of all public funds under their purview.” According to Buhari, the information must include the MDA responsible, the beneficiary, the purpose and amount of each payment. He added that “accounting officers are responsible for providing answers to any questions from the public relating to transactions completed by entities under their charge.” Again, the president indicated that all MDAS must publish monthly budget performance reports. These reports, he noted, must include the performance of the budget by various dimensions as well as the economic activities performed by all Federal Government agencies. He added that the reports must be ready within seven days after the end of the month. In addition, the president directed the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Ahmed Idris, to “publish monthly accounts detailing the fiscal performance of the federation, including receipts from all the collection agencies and payments out of the Federation Account,” adding that such publication must be done within 14 days after the end of the month.

Truth be told, President Buhari’s directive on daily disclosures is a step in the right direction. Given the opacity that has attended government operations almost throughout the country’s history, getting the AGF and all accounting officers of MDAs to publish quarterly financial statements for the government as a whole, and for individual MDAs respectively, is quite a positive development. And it is equally cheering to hear that the reports must be published within a month after the end of a quarter. Under the new arrangement, the AGF must also publish Annual General Purpose Financial Statements, while all public sector entities are required to publish statements for their individual entities. These statements are to be prepared following international public sector accounting standards and must be ready within a month after the end of the first quarter of the following year.

Unless they have something to hide, contractors and other service providers to government agencies should have no problem with the fact that any payment they receive from the public purse could (we pray that it will) henceforth be published. As Buhari himself admonished, the contractors should “ensure that they collect public money for legitimate purposes, for if not, it will not take long before it is known.” However, even though the president enthused that the new policy, a brainchild of the OAGF, had to be implemented in order to achieve the cementing of government’s commitment to improving governance, supplementing the recently launched whistle-blower policy and equipping the general population with the tools they need to report financial wrongdoing, this is something that ordinarily ought to be routine, and it is certainly not cheering that this is coming five years into Buhari’s government. Financial openness ought to be standard practice, not requiring presidential directive or even approval.

The government certainly needs to give details on the treasury, the value of ongoing contracts and allied matters. Nigerians need information on public procurements, and the new directive will not avail much if these details  are not known. It is true that in order to enable the implementation of the policy, a website, www.opentreasury.gov.ng, has been created  for all MDAs to publish the information required by the policy and for immediate access by all Nigerians. But the website needs to be alive, with fresh information at all times.  More often than not, websites are merely created in the country to fulfill all righteousness; they are not responsive. Enquiries made to the emails and GSM numbers placed there are never responded to. We hope that this would not be the case this time around. We agree with the government that Nigerians need to know how it is spending their money.

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