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Reps Question finance ministry for N17bn unapproved spending

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts, on Thursday, asked the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to present evidence of approval for the over N17bn extra-budgetary spending from the Sovereign Wealth Fund SWF under its control between 2016 and 2019.

The Chairman of the committee, Oluwole Oke, gave the directive at an investigative hearing following an audit query issued by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation against the ministry.

The committee also demanded details of the expenditure, which it said was too heavy to be overlooked.

At the hearing attended by representatives of the offices of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Auditor-General of the Federation, the finance ministry, in comparing notes with the lawmakers, said it received and spent part of the alleged fund during the period, but denied receiving others.

The committee also directed the ministry to liaise with the offices of the AcGF and the AuGF to reconcile the figures – N15bn in 2016, N1.5bn in 2017, N550m in 2018 and N512m in 2019, as contained in the audit query.

The Director of Finance, Aliyu Ahmed, said the large part of the funds were spent on Nigeria’s regular subscription fees to the various international bodies it belonged to.

“The ministry makes naira available to the CBN, who in turn pay these subscriptions in hard currencies. Also different levels of Nigerian delegation starting from presidential are sponsored to international conferences, meetings and seminars by the ministry. Many of these trips are expensive and are not captured in the ministry’s annual budgetary provisions,” he said

However, Oke described the explanation as abstract and vague.

He approved the ministry’s request for a two-week time to reconcile with the auditor-general on the expenditure from the SWF and provide the documentary evidence demanded on such expenditure.

At the Senate, the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, formerly Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency, on Thursday, failed to present documents to justify the payment of N131m as legal fee to external solicitors in 2018.

The Office of the Auditor General of the Federation had in its 2018 report queried the PPPRA over the payment.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Mathew Urhoghide, had asked officials of the PPPRA to present evidence for the payment.

Members of the committee asked why the PPPRA paid a sum of money to external solicitors when it had an in-house legal department that was competent to handle such cases.

The lawmakers also observed that the Office of the Attorney General of Federation did not consent to the engagement and the agency paid the legal fees. They also noted there was no evidence of any deliverables in the contract agreement before the payment was made.

However, officials of the PPPRA who appeared before the committee were unable to present documents to justify the payment.

The General Manager, Accounts, Dele Adewumi, told the lawmakers that the PPPRA was in urgent need of continuous legal representation in various cases initiated against the Federal Government by the Nigerian Labour Congress.

Adewumi added that the PPPRA considered it more efficient and financially prudent to engage the external solicitors.

“N131m was paid to staff of Messrs Ahmed Uwais and Co Legal Practitioners for retainership and consultancy service from 1st January to December 2017,” the query said.

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