IT is important the Federal Government knows its assets, at home and abroad. It is equally important that efforts in that direction attain the level of seriousness that matches the importance of the assignment.
We do not see such attention to details in the announcement Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku made about an inter-ministerial committee to take inventory of all Nigeria’s properties abroad.
Maku said the committee to be headed by the Foreign Affairs Minister, had membership from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development; Bureau for Public Enterprises, the Bureau for Public Procurement, and the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, would evaluate assets of the Nigerian Navy, Foreign Affairs, Nigerian Ports Authority, and other agencies abroad.
The aberration should not be allowed. The minister gave no figure of membership of the travelling committee. There were no details of the duration of the assignment, or the financial implications of the assignment, especially considering the calibre of officials on the committee.
Most importantly, Section 85 (4) of the Constitution is explicit on powers of investigating the properties of the country, wherever they may be. This is simple audit.
“The Auditor-General shall have power to conduct checks of all government statutory corporations, commissions, authorities, agencies, including all persons and bodies established by an Act of the National Assembly. (6) In the exercise of his functions under this Constitution, the Auditor-General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person”, the section states. Why ignore the Constitution just to create another avenue for waste?
Each of the nearly 600 ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, including the armed forces and paramilitary services, have Finance and Accounts Departments, with competent auditors from the Auditor-General’s office. There is no need for a special committee to do a job that is lawfully assigned to that office.
According to Section 85 (2), “The public accounts of the Federation and of all offices and courts of the Federation shall be audited and reported on to the Auditor-General who shall submit his reports to the National Assembly; and for that purpose, the Auditor-General or any person authorised by him in that behalf shall have access to all the books, records, returns and other documents relating to those accounts.”
Lapses in auditing accounts of MDAs, matters the National Assembly ignores, is responsible for making routine accounting of government properties seem extraordinary. The junket Maku suggested would neither fulfil the constitutional requirement nor achieve anything meaningful.
Should government assets be verified? Yes, at home and abroad, following stipulated constitutional provisions. Anything less is a continuation of the wastes that leaves the country without resources to provide basic facilities.