• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Public finance managers: When Accountants-General met in A/Ibom

Ahmed Idris, accountant-general of the Federation

Accountants-General from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory had their annual retreat in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital recently. It afforded the managers of public finances the opportunity to move away from their comfort zones as it were to reflect over their performances in the last one year and to have a rethink on new strategies for efficient and effective public finance management in the coming year.

No other venue could have provided the best hospitality service than the trendy and Ibom Golf Hotel and Resort and so it was. With the theme, “Efficient and Effective Public Finance Management, Role of Accountants-Generals,”  the four-day retreat came alive with the presence of top public finance managers, experts in the financial sector and knowledgeable resource persons drawn from related sectors of the nation’s economy and the academia.

Soon, it was time for the participants to get down to business after the opening formalities and it was an opportunity once more for “the next level Accountant General of the Federation” to give an insight into the management of finance by the Federal Government and steps being taken to ensure continuous inflow of revenue to the treasury.

Ahmed Idris, accountant-general of the Federation, in his speech disclosed that his office with a dual role of managing the Federation Account and the Consolidated Revenue Fund has initiated many reforms to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the process.

Some of the measures he said included the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS), Government Integrated Financial Management Information System as well as Treasury Single Account and the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standard. It should be noted that it is the IPPIS that has been generating friction between lecturers in federal universities and the Federal Government.

According to Idris, the centralisation of the payroll through the IPPIS has significantly influenced the management of the Federal Government’s wage bills, adding that his office has “commenced the process of implementing the presidential directives that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS) of government funded from the consolidated revenue funds be enrolled in the IPPIS.’’ It is in the public domain that members of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) are opposed to their inclusion in IPPIS.

He seized the opportunity to point out some interventionist programmes adopted by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he said had assisted states to pay the arrears of salaries owed to workers.  Some of the measures, he said, included the approval by the President in early 2016 that states should access bailout funds to the tune of N10 billion as against the nominal value of the ECA balance adding that 35 states benefitted from the gesture.

Others, he said, included Budget Support Facility for states in which a special purpose funding was incorporated to raise capital to finance the funding requirements of states.According to him, N1.39 billion was disbursed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to each of the 35 participating states for the first three months adding that N1.111 billion was released to each state monthly. He also explained that states had owed the Federal Government billions of Naira in which “subsequent governments had refused to pay,’’ as a result of the Paris Club loan taken by the Federal Government between 1992 and 1995.

“The payment was made in three tranches of N492.505 billion, N243,798 and N649.434 billion respectively. This clearly shows that Mr. President has concerns for the country and its citizenry. This injection of this colossal amount had helped the country in exiting recession, put the country to the path of growth and further enable states meet their contractual obligations,’’ he said.

However, in spite of the huge amount of money disbursed to the states, the Accountant General of the Federation expressed worry over the dwindling revenue generation capacity of the states, adding though that efforts are made to bring up more initiatives to boost revenue and curtail expenditure.

Advising states to create additional sources of revenue generation to augment their monthly allocation from Federation Account, he said apart from Lagos State, no other state could pay the monthly salary of its workers without a recourse to the Federation Account.

He disclosed that the minister of finance has introduced many measures including the strategic revenue growth initiative meant to harmonise efforts of all revenue generating agencies in increasing government’s revenue as well as looking at new revenue streams and enhanced enforcement of revenue collection on the existing revenue streams.

He explained the benefits of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (PSC) Act recently signed into law governing the PSC agreements between the Federal Governments and International Oil Companies.

According to him, the original law that provided for the operation of oil licenses in deep water was introduced by the military regime back in 1993.

‘New techniques in drilling and computer modeling were then beginning to emerge, allowing for the exploitation of oil in water depth that had previously been impossible. Fiscal terms were based on the industry’s long term outlook for oil price passed USD 20 per barrel in 2003 but companies refused to accept the reality. However, with the signing of the bill into law, the country is projected to earn additional income annually from the oil majors,” he said.

Idris emphasised that the passage of the bill would also provide the Federal Government legal backing in addition to the 2018 Supreme Court judgment to pursue the outstanding realities arising from failure to revise the production sharing formulae when oil price exceeds USD 20 per barrel.

Recalling the theme of the retreat, Haruna Ahmad, chairman, Accountants-General Forum, said it was a callto duty for them to continue in “safeguarding the assets of the nation and to present a true and fair view of the state of affairs of the government of our great nation, the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’’

Indeed, it was as if the nation’s finances had been laid bare, showing the state of revenue generation capabilities and what needs to be done for more revenue accrual to drive economic growth in the country.

Though the retreat has come and gone and the participants must have gone home with a renewed vigour on how best to drive the nation’s finances and ensure effective and efficient management of the country’s revenue assets.

It is hoped that it would not be one of the those retreats in which after the conference might have ended, the recommendations are left in the files to remain unimplemented.

Furthermore, for the retreat to have been hosted by Akwa Ibom State government, considerations must have been given to the fact that the governor is an accountant of international repute who contributed his quota in the nation’s financial service sector.Also, the excellent work by Uwem Andrew Essien, the state accountant-general, since his appointment few years ago must have attracted the attention of the public finance managers and he seemed to have acquitted himself creditably in ensuring the success of the retreat.

As expected, the retreat was declared open by Governor Udom Emmanuel, who was represented by Emmanuel Ekumen, secretary to the State Government as he urged the accountants to use the retreat as a platform to present new realities of the profession and to seek ways how to make the engine of governance operate with less friction.

According to the governor, the forum of accountants-general is a critical layer in a democratic governance, saying they play a major role in the translation of and execution of government policies.

“You are the ones who understand the application of resources, who gets what, where and when, those that are urgent, and those that can wait, in essence you are the critical faces of government with unfettered access to the highest levels of government operations,” he said.

He reminded his colleagues that it was important to keep updating their skills and how to adopt new approaches in solving problems, explaining his delight that the forum does organise a retreat every year to explore new vistas of engagements aimed at making deliverables seamless and less cumbersome.

The governor, himself an accountant, must have felt at ease in the midst of the accountants as he usually describes himself as a professional in politics as opposed to a professional politician in which he believes professionals in politics see themselves as a call to duty, to impact lives, change people’s orientation and engender in the people, an entrepreneurial spirit.

There were several paper presentations including “The role of Accountants-General in tackling fraud and corruption in Nigeria, Ethical Issues in Public Finance management: Accountants-General connection and Using Information Technology to the meetings of Accountants-General,” among others.

 

ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK, Uyo