Disowns Accountant General over N28 billion remittance
As Senate queries CG Customs over 5yr un-remitted staff pension
By Henry Umoru – Abuja
The Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ali, retd, after failed attempts to have him come personally before the Senate to clear the queries raised by the Auditor General of the Federation, Anthony Ayine in his financial statements that indicated his, finally appeared before the Upper Chamber.
Ali who appeared before the Senator Matthew Urhoghide, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Edo South led Senate Committee on Public Accounts, however, they disowned the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris over the differentials of N28 billion allegedly under remitted into the Federation Account in 2015.
The Customs boss who completely absolved his agency of any wrongdoing described the query in question as strange to the service because the mode of Customs collections is purely automated since 2015, adding, “For anybody to pointing at us; then there is a problem.”
On the N4.5billion loan to the Customs, which was given to NCS as loan from the N37billion special fund for rice level for the local production of rice, Ali said he was also hearing about the loan for the first time, adding, ” Since I took over, I don’t know about the existence of any loan. They said it was for exigency, which exigency.”
Ali who noted that it could be part of the bailout out fund is given to them by the government, however, insisted that the NCS does not have any record of any loan from anybody, adding, “our mode of payment from payment and remittance are purely automated. So, these findings are strange to me.”
The Auditor-General of the Federation, Anthony Ayine had in his Financial Statement for 2015 asked the Accountant General to explain to the Senate the differentials in the amount remitted by the Customs Service and the figures contained in his own records.
According to the Audited report presented to the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, the Customs remitted N185 billion as against the sum of N157 billion in the Chief Accountant’s document.
The Senate has also queried the Comptroller General of NCS over the failure of the Service to remit the five percent of staff wages to the National Pension Commission, Pencom over the past five years.
Chairman of the Committee, Urhoghide who accused the Customs boss of failing to remit the fund to Pencom as a revenue-generating agency, stressed that the refusal of the Customs leadership to abide by the Constitutional provisions of the Pension Act, with regard to the pension of personnel, simply means that the retirees of the Service have not been receiving their pensions.
Senator Urhoghide who expressed disappointment that for over five years and other MDAs have not produced their audited accounts, asked, “How can we say we are fighting corruption under this situation.?
He said, “The Customs Act says you must send in your audited accounts, six months into another financial year. We must clear the outstanding unaudited accounts. What the President does with this will tell us how we are fighting corruption. A lot of us are very concerned and this isn’t the way to go. So many weighty allegations Customs and three days we haven’t seen you. The query is given to you by the Auditor General of the Federation in 2015 and you are yet to vacate them, almost five years after.
“You aren’t keeping to standard account timelines. Five years after, we are still considering 2015. A lot of these things are shrouded in secrecy.”
Also speaking, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, APC, Kwara Central who told the Customs CG that the money ought to have been remitted to Pencom so long as it pays their staff monthly, be it half salary or full salary, however, lamented that a revenue-generating agency like NCS should have no reason to fail to remit the five percent of staff wages to Pencom, adding that the Service should look for where to raise money to remit the five per cent to the Pencom.
The Accountant General of the Federation who was represented by a Director in the Office, Feyintola Olusegun, had earlier referred the Auditor-General and the Senate Panel to the Customs Service for clarification.
The Accountant-General made what appears a U-turn with a new explanation that the N28 billion was for ECOWAS stabilization fund for 2015.
His latest explanation did not quite sit well with the lawmakers especially as it was not reflected in his earlier written submission to the Senate Panel and unable to provide documentary evidence to back up his claim.
On the query of non-remittance of the pension fund; Ali admitted that his command defaulted in 2015 because it did not have sufficient funds to meet up with the obligation, saying that lack of funds explains why the Service appears unable to remit the five percent fund to the Pencom.
According to Ali, the seven percent collection costs which the NCS deduction from revenue collections has not been enough to pay their staff, just as he recalled that when he took over as the CG Customs, the agency depended on a bailout to carry out its operations.
According to him, it was until President Muhammadu Buhari approved their inclusion in the Consolidated Salary Structure (CSS) that the NCS began to offset some of its financial commitments, adding that while the money for the salary of staff is deducted directly from the seven per cent commission, that of pension is not deducted directly.
He, however, assured the Senate that with the inclusion of Customs into the CSS of the federal government, the Service will be able to commence the remittances of the backlog of the five percent to Pencom.
According to him, the seven percent Commissions which they deduct from revenue collections has never been enough, adding that it will not be wise to remove five per cent from the seven percent commission and pay to the PENCOM when the remaining two percent will not be enough to pay staff salary.
The Accountant General also came under fire over the unpaid domestic loan of N37.8billion borrowed from 10% Rice Level Account for urgent expenditure in 2013 as the Committee questioned why he failed to include the loan in the budget since then.
According to the report, Customs Service benefitted N4.5 billion from the said loan while other beneficiaries of the unpaid loan are: INEC, PHCN, and NIMCOMSAT.
At the end of the day, the Senate Committee asked the Accountant General to come forward with details of the loan that can help it conclude its probe.