In 2019, the Nigerian Senate spent about N3.6 billion that it could not account for, an audit report has revealed.
There was also no evidence to show what the funds were used for.
The Senate also failed to remit taxes to the appropriate authorities in the same year.
According to the report, several deductions were made from the salaries of staff.
These deductions were meant to be Withholding Tax (WHT), Value Added Tax (VAT) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE), but these funds were not remitted to the relevant agencies.
Details of these missing funds are contained in the annual report of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) for 2019.
The Senate is one of the many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the federal government indicted and queried by the Auditor-General for incessant violation of extant rules, some of which include non-retirement of personal advances within a financial year and grant of cash advances above the approved limit and payments without vouchers.
Newsmen reported how their counterparts at the House of Representatives also diverted over N5.2 billion in the same year.
The Auditor-General, in the report, had said these financial offences could translate to loss of government funds and/or diversion of public funds. And the discrepancies could be attributed to weaknesses in the internal control system at the Senate.
There was no response to the queries and concerns raised by the Auditor-General either by the Senate, House or the management of the National Assembly.
The report is the latest in the Office of the Auditor General’s annual series. It is titled, ‘Non-compliance/Internal Control Weakness Issues in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria for the year ended December 31, 2019’.
It was recently submitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly by the Auditor General of the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu, in accordance with sections 85(2) and (4) of the Nigerian constitution.
The top of the five queries raised by the Auditor-General is N1.7 billion paid between February and December 2019 for the supply of vehicles and other office equipment.
The payments were made through 17 vouchers and none of the 17 vouchers was made available for audit examination.
The report said this violates Paragraph 110 of the Financial Regulations which states that “by virtue of the responsibilities and functions of the Accountant General and the Auditor-General or their representatives shall, at all reasonable times, have free access to books of accounts, files, safes, security documents and other records and information.”
In this regard, the Clerk to the National Assembly was asked to account for the N1.7 billion, explain why payment vouchers were not made available for audit examination and remit the money to the treasury.
The clerk was also asked to forward evidence of remittance to the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly.
In another instance, a total of N675.7 million was paid for the supply of motor vehicles, motorcycles and other office equipment through 16 payment vouchers between July and December 2019 but none of the payment vouchers was cleared by the Internal Audit before payment as required by extant regulations.
This violates Paragraph 1705 of the Financial Regulations which says “the Head of Internal Audit Unit in all ministries/extra-ministerial offices and other arms of government shall ensure that 100% pre-payment audit of all checked and passed vouchers. is carried out and the vouchers forwarded under security schedule directly to the appropriate Central Pay Office for payment….”
The Clerk to the National Assembly was, therefore, requested to account for the fund that was paid without a 100 per cent pre-payment audit as required by extant regulations.
He is also to explain why payment vouchers were not cleared by the Internal Audit before payment, remit the money to treasury and forward evidence of remittance to the Public Accounts Committees.
In other queries raised by the Auditor-General, N176.2 million was deducted as Pay As You Earn (PAYE) from staff salaries.
In another instance, a VAT of N39.7 million for payment for services was deducted. At the same time, WHT of N237.6 million from payment for services were deducted.
There was no evidence to show that the monies were remitted to the relevant tax authorities with acknowledgement receipt as required by extant regulations.
This violates Paragraph 235 of the Financial Regulations which states that – “deductions for WHT, VAT and PAYE shall be remitted to the Federal Inland Revenue at the same time the payee who is the subject of the deduction is paid.”
Hence, the National Assembly clerk is required to explain why PAYE, VAT and WHT deducted from salaries were not remitted to relevant tax authorities and remit the whole fund to relevant tax authorities, with revenue acknowledgement receipt as evidence and forward evidence of remittance to the Public Accounts Committees.
Paragraph 220(i) of the Financial Regulations states that “sub Accounting officers who function as revenue collectors will bring their collection to account directly into their cash books, the receipt being acknowledged on General Receipt Form (Treasury Book 6) or the appropriate receipt or license form.”
This is the extant regulation the Senate violated when N291,6 million was deducted from the salary arrears of 107 senators between July and December 2019 as housing loans but had no evidence to show that the money was remitted to the treasury and acknowledged with Treasury Book 6 as required by extant regulations.
In the same vein, N123.3 million for vehicle loans were deducted from the senators’ salary arrears between July and December 2019 without evidence to show that it was remitted to the treasury and acknowledged with Treasury Book 6 as required by extant regulations.
The National Assembly is mandated to explain why housing and vehicle loans deducted from senators’ salaries were not remitted to the treasury as required by extant regulations and remit the entire sum to the treasury.
Evidence of remittance is to be forwarded to the Public Accounts Committees.
The Senate violated Paragraph 603 (i) of the Financial Regulations when N423.3 million was paid for the supply of utility vehicles and production of National Assembly Logo between August and November 2019 from the Capital account without documents showing payment.
The regulation states that “all vouchers shall contain full particulars of each service. Such as dates, numbers, quantities, distances and rates. So as to enable them to be checked without reference to any other documents and will invariably be supported by relevant documents such as local purchase orders, invoices, Special letters of authority, timesheets. Etc.”
According to the report, the payment of N423.3 million was effected through four payment vouchers and no relevant supporting documents were attached to the payment vouchers to facilitate the validation of the payment.
Besides explaining the violations, the National Assembly clerk has been asked to remit the money to the treasury and forward evidence of remittance to the Public Accounts Committees.
Normally, when MDAs are indicted in the AuGF’s report, the National Assembly Public Accounts Committees would issue queries and threats and summon heads of the agencies for explanations.
The Senate public accounts committee had, on several occasions, threatened heads of major agencies like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Minister of Information and the Niger Delta Development Commission.
Efforts to reach the Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru, and the Chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee, Matthew Urhoghide, with regards to how the upper chamber intends to handle the AuGF’s queries, were unsuccessful.
It is not clear how the National Assembly will respond to the latest queries from the AuGF.