By Uche Chris
The worsening revenue profile of government which has led to uncontrollable borrowings may be attributed to the thriving corruption in the ministries, agencies and departments, MDAs, as a result of the complete disregard of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy.
Consequently, it has emerged that the federal government may have lost a staggering N9 trillion in the past six years of this administration forcing the government into debt trap. Nigeria’s debt under this government has ballooned from N11 trillion in 2015 to N38 trillion at the end of 2021, an addition of N27 trillion in six years or over 200 percent.
The TSA was introduced by the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan, but adopted by and vigorously implemented in the early life of the present regime of President Buhari as part of its corruption fight, and all MDAs were required to consolidate their banks accounts into one account domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Before then, agencies and ministries, such as NNPC, NPA, and ministry of Defence etc had as many as 100-300 different bank accounts each.
According to official reports that informed it’s introduction, the TSA was supposed to curb this excess, which provided convenient cover for perpetrating corruption by government officials as most of the accounts served as safe havens to hide government funds for private purposes. Although the TSA policy was highly applauded globally as a major step to effectively tackle public sector corruption, sadly it was soon ignored by most of the revenue generating agencies, which provide a significant proportion of alternative revenue for government outside oil.
Just last week, Transparency International, TI, released it’s 2021 report on Corruption Perception Index, CPI, ranking Nigeria at 154 from 149 in 2020, out of 180 countries, a drop of five places a year ago signifying a worsening corruption situation in the country. This Index focuses on the public sector and MDAs.
For instance, a recent report by the Auditor General of the Federation, AuGF, indicted the police of losing 1700 arms in it’s custody without notice, which may have found their way into illegal hands and could have spiked violent criminal activities in different parts of the country.
The revenue losses to government arise from unremitted funds by MDAs, which amount to an annual average of $3 billion, a sum that is more than the borrowings for 2022, and 10 percent of the 2022 budget. This amount can fund the combined allocations to education, health, works and housing, which stand at N1.2 trillion, sectors that have direct impact on the people.
In December 2018, Director General of the Budget Office, Mr. Ben Akabueze, said that MDAs owned by government were in default of N10 trillion in unremitted operation surplus with the Petroleum Pricing Policy Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, as the biggest culprit with unremitted surplus of N1.3 trillion, followed by CBN with N802 billion, and NPA with N192 billion among others.
Defunct Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, once told a senate committee in 2020 that it remitted only N49 billion out of the N2.4 trillion it generated in 2019.
Also the inflation of budget estimates by MDAs for personnel cost and other recurrent costs have served as conduit pipes to siphon government revenue. A probe by ICPC in 2019 revealed this gross abuse and inflation or padding of nominal payroll, which led to the discovery of N9.2 billion in a few agencies. In the 2022 budget the anti corruption body also said it had uncovered over 160 project duplications that cost N20 billion.
Dr. Godwin Owoh, an economist and policy expert, told this reporter that public sector corruption is the big elephant in the room and the focus on politically exposed persons is misplaced because it is not possible for politicians to steal without the connivance of public servants.
“This government is only pretending about fighting corruption because the body language of the president belies such pretensions. I can tell you that more corruption is taking place now than in 2015”, he said.