…Gets Commendation from Policy Alert over Commission’s independence
…Audit Account Committee Charged to wake up
By Ekemini Simon
Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has retained her powers in the new audit law to investigate financial irregularities in State Government spending.
The State executive through an executive bill tagged a bill for a law to establish the Akwa Ibom State Audit Commission, Offices of the Auditor-General for Akwa Ibom State and Auditor-General for Local Governments and for other related matters connected therewith schemed to blackout and limit the House of Assembly of her powers to investigate financial irregularities.
Section 31(2) of the bill provided for financial irregularities discovered by the Auditor General to be channeled to the executive, instead of the legislature.
The section read ” If at any time, it appears to the State Auditor-General that any irregularities have occurred in the receipt, custody or expenditure of public monies or in the receipt, custody, issue, sale, transfer or delivery of any securities, stores or other Government property, or in the accounting of same, he shall immediately bring the matter to the notice of the Governor or the Accounting Officer of the affected Ministry or Agency and to any other officer he may deem fit.”
However, this provision did not sail through in the final draft of the bill passed into law by the House of Assembly also in the copy assented by the State governor.
This reporter who accessed the copy of the new law discovered that section 31 (2) now reads ” lf at any time it appears to the State Auditor-General that any irregularities have occurred in the receipt, custody or expenditure of public monies or in the receipt, custody, issue, sale, transfer or delivery of any securities, stores or other Government property, or in the accounting of same, he shall immediately bring the matter to the notice of the House of Assembly.”
Meanwhile, Policy Alert, a Civil Society Organisation working on fiscal justice has commended the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for taking into consideration the organisation’s inputs on the independence of the Commission into arriving at a final version of the recently enacted Akwa Ibom State Audit Commission Law 2021.
The commendation was contained in a statement released this morning by the Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer of the organisation, Mrs. Nneka Luke-Ndumere, in reaction to the recent assent of the Bill by Governor Udom Emmanuel.
It could be recalled that Policy Alert had in its memo to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly during the recent public hearing on the bill queried the provision of Section 31(2).
The organisation recommended that instead of passing discovered irregularities to the Governor or Ministry involved, irregularities discovered should be stated in the State Auditor-General’s report and submitted to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Assembly for investigations, public discussion and necessary sanctions.
According to Luke-Ndumere, the decision of the House of Assembly to take on board Policy Alert’s recommendation gives hope that public inputs are increasingly becoming valued within the process of lawmaking.
“We are encouraged that Public Hearings at the state House of Assembly are becoming more meaningful as inputs made by the public through their memoranda are being taken seriously by the legislature. This is the way it should be. For the House to consider the recommendation against the controversial section 31 (2) of the Audit Bill, is for us a source of optimism, and we urge the House never to look back.
“When citizens know that their contributions will be acted upon, it emboldens them to participate in governance processes and when the government is participatory, it builds trust between the leaders and the led and strengthens the social contract. At the end, it will be to the credit of that Assembly and by extension the administration involved.”
The Policy Alert spokesperson lauded the State Governor for the prompt assent to the Bill, noting that the Audit Law now makes the Commission independent. She noted that the development would begin to reverse more than a decade of underfunding for the Office of the Auditor General which had completely crippled the audit function in the state.
While noting that Akwa Ibom is one of the few states currently giving that level of independence to its audit institution, Luke-Ndumere called on the State Government to promptly inaugurate the Commission and equally provide adequate funding for its take-off in line with provisions already captured in the 2021 budget. She also called on the Public Accounts Committee of the State House of Assembly to wake up to its responsibilities in the audit process. “No audit system, no matter how independent, can achieve the desired results without a strong, responsive and independent Public Accounts Committee”, she said.