Buhari’s portal of transparency

The Muhammadu Buhari administration has launched a portal where Nigerians can see how the country’s financial resources are being spent by government agencies. Despite fears in some quarters that the portal will be compromised, the initiative has been commended, writes Assistant Editor NDUKA CHIEJINA.

 

THE Federal Government has followed other countries and institutions to introduce the Financial Transparency Policy and Portal also known as Open Government. This policy allows for the creation of a dedicated portal that warehouses all government financial transactions and puts the information out for the public to consume. On December 9, President Muhammadu Buhari, which is set aside as the International Anti-Corruption Day by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, launched the portal to show his administration’s commitment to tackle corruption.

The portal will be managed by the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Galaxy Backbone Plc with support from the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank.

Buhari said: “The way we do business, we promised that we will improve revenue collection as well as spending through better systems. As of today, we have recorded significant milestones, including the rollout of the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) to over 800 Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAS), which has enabled us to build a very rich repository of financial information about the affairs of the Federal Government. Within the government, we know who is collecting what revenue and who is getting paid which money and for what purpose. This information is available online real-time, but only to a limited number of privileged government officials.”

The Transparency Policy was approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2018 and it compels the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) to publish a Daily Treasury Statement, which will provide information about what comes into the national purse and what goes out every day. In his address, Buhari insisted and emphasised that “henceforth, Treasury is required to publish this information unfailingly.”

The President ordered that the “AGF and all Accounting Officers must publish Daily Payments Reports. With these reports, the Treasury will publish payments of at least N10 million naira while all MDAS must publish payments above N5 million made out of all public funds under their purview. The information to be published must include the MDA responsible, the beneficiary, the purpose and amount of each payment. Accounting Officers are responsible for providing answers to any questions from the public relating to transactions completed by entities under their charge.”

In addition, Buhari ordered that “all MDAS must publish Monthly Budget Performance Reports. These reports must include the performance of the budget by various dimensions including MDAs, functions and economic activities performed by all Federal Government Agencies. These reports must be ready within 7 days after the end of the month.”

The AGF has also been mandated to “publish monthly Fiscal Accounts detailing the fiscal performance of the Federation including receipts from all the collection agencies and payments out of the Federation Account. This must be done within 14 days after the end of the month. The AGF and all Accounting Officers of MDAs must publish Quarterly Financial Statements for the government as a whole and for individual MDAS respectively.”

These, the President said, “must be published within a month after the end of the quarter. The AGF must publish Annual General Purpose Financial Statements while all public Sector entities are required to publish statements for their individual entities. These statements must 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.”

To check officials in the office of the AGF, Buhari noted that he is aware that the requirements may appear too rigorous but “the systems that have been built to support the policy are robust enough”. The President has by this statement, sent a warning to the AGF that sabotaging the initiative is not to be considered in view of the fears raised in some quarters.

The reason for implementing this policy, Buhari said, is to cement government’s “commitment to improving governance and supplementing the recently launched Whistle-blower Policy and equipping the general population with the tools they need to report financial wrongdoing.”

“It is crucial that more transparency is not only encouraged but also enforced at all levels. This policy is also aimed at enabling timely availability of financial information to the civil society organizations and the public at large by all MDAs of the Federal Government. Through this initiative, the foundation for a strong partnership against corruption will be laid,” Buhari said.

By coming up with this policy and portal, the federal government is setting the minimum requirements for financial transparency by all MDAs. According to Buhari, “while full and complete disclosure should be encouraged, a minimum needs to be set to ensure that non-compliance can be established and addressed. I encourage MDAs to publish even more.”

Another interesting fall out of the financial transparency policy, which now sets deadlines and allocation of responsibility for financial transparency, is that all MDAs are now “required to promptly respond to additional requests for information beyond what is published.”

Buhari has urged all the states and Local Governments “to embrace transparency as a vehicle through which fiscal discipline can be entrenched for the benefit of generations to come.”

He said the initiative “needs to be launched to the next level where public discourse is based on truthful information. It begins with ensuring a truthful source within government and a government that is transparent and truthful by choice. We have come a long way as a country, I trust we are at that point where governance must not only be driven by the honesty of particular individuals but a system that espouses truthfulness and abhors falsehoods and lies.”

So far, the Consolidated Budget Performance by Administrative segment, Consolidated Budget Performance by Economic Classification and Consolidated Budget Performance by Functions of Government (from January to November 2019) have been uploaded.

Speaking to The Nation on the initiative, visiting Professor at the Centre for the Study of Leadership and Complex Military Operations, Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), Prof. Ken Ife, described the policy as a tsunami, a policy seismic shift that “is about transferring power and accountability to the people.”

According to the visiting professor, “not even the Freedom of Information Act, not even Okonjo-Iweala publishing Local government FAAC receipts, there is nothing like it. It actually says to the people, ‘you want transparency, here is transparency. What now happens now is that the ordinary man on the street is now a watchdog for the whole country.”

Ife said: “We are going to borrow $22.7billion from the international community, this is going to be supported by projects and in these projects, you are going to see timelines, outlooks, achievements and funds released. So if somebody says they’re going to do 2000 kilometre roads and they’re going to be doing 150 kilometres every month, and government pays them ?500 million for 200 kilometres, the moment that money is paid, people can check up on the deal and communities along that road will raise alarm and cry out to their Reps and Senators representing them, then you see the National Assembly breathing down on the ministry summoning the contractors and ministers.

“NGOs will see the figure and rush to court to say these things are not done. It is a bombshell that is a seismic shift from what used to be. That is the meaning of transparency.

“It is a very important milestone, prior to this, there was the Freedom of Information Act and it takes a long time to get the information but here what you are going to get is evidence, once these figures are published it is evidence. There is no long story about it. It is evidence, and it is actionable.”

He described the implementation of the initiative as “a major achievement for the administration and this affects even budgeted resources and you can monitor how the budget is doing. If they say they have built borehole and given a certificate for drilling borehole, and you haven’t seen the borehole, you will be running up and down. I think it is a remarkable achievement where the government is saying ‘you do it yourself, you have the power’. The power has been handed to the people to monitor it.”

He went on: “When they were publishing how many local governments were receiving, Local government workers gathered and went to their local governments to challenge local government chairmen enquiring what they did with their allocation. With this development, this time they will go with a list and say “you awarded these contracts for these communities, you have paid these contractors but these jobs have not been done. It is a different order of an authority. So we need to commend the government for courage.”

Odilim Enwegbara, a development economist and financial expert who serves as Chairman/CEO at Pan Africa Development Corporate Company (PADCC), said: ” If an agency says it spent ?10 million on January 10th to transport officials from Lagos to Abuja, they have to justify how much the tickets cost, which airline collected such an amount of money, and how the money is transmitted to the airline. It is a fantastic idea that allows people to know how the government is spending public money, it must be encouraged.”

Enwegbara advocated that “agencies should also have their own sub-portals so that if you go to a particular agency, you will see how they are spending their money. These portals should be linked to the EFCC. EFCC will know all the transactions and procurements so that they can track inflated procurement.”

On the fear of the portal being compromised, Enwegbara said such fears are legitimate but said a solution already exists where “a biometric portal to guard against hacking and sabotaging of the portal is available.”

Enwegbara advised: “Make it biometric so that nobody can hack it. For you to hack it your biometrics are required for you to go into the portal to change and update figures. The portal must be upgraded to be biometric driven to be accessed by a handful of government officials.”

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Mrs Zainab Ahmed, at the launch of the policy and portal, said: “The launch of this Financial Transparency Policy marks another milestone in the quest for this administration to promote the principles of accountability and transparency in the public financial management system which is in furtherance with what was done in 2012.”

She said the Policy and Portal launched are in furtherance of one of the objectives, which is the fight against corruption in conformity with global best practices and to build the confidence of different economic actors in the governance of public affairs by both elected and appointed public officials.”

The Next Level of government’s reform efforts, President Buhari said now requires this initiative. “Nigerians need it and all Accounting Officers must comply,” he said.

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