BPE and its unaudited accounts
t a forum organised by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) last week, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) was accused of operating in contravention of several provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007. FRC’s acting chairman, Mr Victor Muruaku, accused the Bureau of serial breaches of the law, including failure to provide audited accounts for the four years of 2007 to 2011, inability to provide approved annual budget for the financial year 2012/2013 and of not remitting the N81.8 million, being its operating surplus in 2007.
In its defence, the BPE, through its Head of Central Accounts Mr Sani Ali, blamed such alleged breaches on the frequent changes in its leadership and the circumstances of its parent agency - the National Committee on Privatisation (NCP). The chairman of the NCP is Nigeria’s vice president, while the BPE is its secretariat.
If the FRC allegations are valid, the implications go beyond the interaction between the BPE and NCP. This is so in the light of several factors, such as the relationship of the BPE with the NCP and the quantum of the national patrimony it is assigned to manage, and the indefensible responses its officers have offered to the FRC query.
The significance to the nation’s economy of the NCP and BPE provides a backdrop which projects the operational failings of the latter in sharp contrast. These are two agencies that were created to restructure, through commercialisation and privatisation, erstwhile moribund and under-performing public utilities to benefit present and future generations of Nigerians. Typical agencies undergoing restructuring under their joint purview include the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) and the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC).
While the NCP considers and approves policies, guidelines, criteria for appointing core investors, public enterprises to be commercialised or privatised, and even the share prices or assets to be offered for sale, the BPE functions as the implementing organ. In its role, it advises the NCP, apart from managing the accounts of all commercialised utilities for financial discipline, along with other assignments.
It is a grievous breach of the law that the BPE has not kept regular financial records of its operations. If it cannot be trusted with keeping basic accounting records of its own, why should it be trusted with overseeing the huge financial operations of commercialised and privatised public enterprises?
Probity, transparency and rectitude should be standard procedure of the BPE. The FRC report shows that this is not the case. The BPE official, Mr Ali’s appeal that the Bureau’s management needed encouragement to comply with the law governing the operations of the agency is noteworthy, because it indicated a less than robust disposition of the BPE leadership towards the statutory challenges that face it. That is why an audit, not only of the finances of the BPE, but its entire operations, is overdue, and needs to be conducted as soon as possible.
The situation with the BPE also invites attention to the role of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, with respect to the widespread reports of shortcomings in the audit of government agencies, and the associated losses of monumental sums of public funds as a result. The Constitution provides ample guidelines and room for the intervention by that office in ensuring that regular audit of public institutions is done and on schedule. The country demands a more proactive posture from the Office of the Auditor General in its duties in order to stem such acts of negligence in high places that create avenues for misconduct, financial and administrative, by public officials and the agencies they work in.