By Deji Elumoye
The Senate Committee on Public Accounts has queried the National Orientation Agency (NOA) for allegedly failing to retire N2 billion paid as cash advances to some members of staff of the agency.
The committee also expressed dismay at the payment of N129 million cash to some members of staff instead of paying the money direct into their accounts as stipulated in federal government circular on e-payment Ref No. TRY/A8&B8/2008 OAGF/CAD/026/VOL.11/465 dated October 22, 2008.
The Senate committee chaired by Senator Mathew Urhoghide, based the two queries issued the agency on the 2016 report of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF), which is being considered by the committee.
The first query read: “The following observations were made: (a) A sum of N1.9 billion being cash advanced to some members of staff of the agency, was left unretired as at December 31, 2014. In 2015, additional outstanding advances amounting to N108.4 million was recorded, thereby bringing the total to N2 billion.
“The practice of not retiring advances granted to staff contravened the provision of Financial Regulation 1405 which stipulates that accounting officers are responsible for ensuring prompt repayment of all advances by installments or otherwise.
“Furthermore, advances register was not properly maintained and retirement file not kept in line with Financial Regulation 1404 which requires each accounting officer of a ministry/extra ministerial office and other arms of government to ensure that advances account records are fully indexed and maintained to record advances issued and all recoveries made.”
However, NOA in a written response, said: “After careful examination of our books, it was found that the figures are programmes expenses and ought to have been expenses after retirement and not to be capitalised and carried forward in our statement of financial position in the General Purpose Financial Statement (GPFS).”
The second query stated: “Examination of the agency’s payment vouchers revealed that payments totalling N129,036,700.00 violated the provision of the circular on e-payment ref No. TRY/A8&B8/2008 OAGF/CAD/026/VOL.11/465 dated October 22, 2008, which stipulates that all employees of the Federal Government of Nigeria must open an account with a commercial bank into which all payments due to him/her must be paid, and on no account should the Central Pay Officer (CPO) collect cash from the bank for the purpose of disbursement to a government official or contractor.
“As a result, the expenditures cannot be accepted as legitimate charges against public funds. The director-general should justify the breach of extant regulations. Otherwise, the officers that authorised the payments should be sanctioned in compliance with Financial Regulation 3128.”
In another written response, the NOA stated that: “The payment in question was accumulation of several payment made over a period of time while the agency was carrying out its various programmes. The urgency and nature of the agency’s programme sometimes necessitate it to use the programme accountant to disburse money to individual who may not have accounts or are constrained by time and circumstances to quickly access their bank as most of these programmes are time bound.”
The agency was unable to present any document justifying disbursement of the N129 million to the committee and also did not attach the vouchers used in spending the N2 billion to the documents submitted to the committee, as it only presented journals to justify the expenditure.
On failure to retire the N2 billion, the Director- General of the agency, Garba Abari, while appearing before the committee, pleaded for more time for the agency to look for relevant vouchers to support the expenditure.
A member of committee, Senator Peter Nwaboshi, inquired about what informed the withdrawal of N129 million cash by NOA, which officials of the agency could not give satisfactory answer.
After much debate on the query, the committee yielded to the request of the director-general of the agency for more time to address issues raised in the query.
The committee, thereafter, adjourned the meeting with NOA till May 27, 2021, for the DG and other top officials to prepare their defence with facts and figures.