BPE and its unau­dited ac­counts

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

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.

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