A salute to Dikwa as PICA marks 3rd anniversary by Dr. Abubakar MS

The Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) was one of the 16 recipients of the prestigious awards of recognition for excellence at the Northeast Star magazine/Arewa Journalists Forum awards which took place on December 22, 2018, at the Merit House, Maitama, Abuja. PICA was considered for the award because of its efficiency and efforts in blocking wastages and leakages in government expenditure for the Buhari administration.

PICA is one department in the Federal Ministry of Finance that is rather quiet and doesn’t like to make noise about its achievements. As a result, its numerous achievements are under-reported and under-celebrated by the Buhari administration and the people of Nigeria. Yet this same PICA was able to save costs in running government, blocked leakages and successfully coordinated the Whistleblower policy. The intensive and diligent forensic audit of IPPIS and nominal roll carried out by PICA led to monthly reduction of personnel cost (salaries) from N151 billion in February 2016 to N138 billion by August, 2016. Similarly, the exercise led to reduction in pension cost from NI5 billion to NI4.5 billion monthly. This reduction has since been sustained through efforts of the Honorable Minister of Finance.

How the Magic Wand was conceived?

The Buhari administration, in its effort to strengthen results-based management in the public sector, has sought to implement a Continuous Audit Process. The primary focus of this program is to put systems and frameworks in place over finance and spending of government revenue. Its goal is to maximize the utilization of the resources through continuous assurance, so as to ensure that requirements for improved efficiency, effectiveness and accountability are met.

The approval for the establishment of PICA was granted by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on March 9, 20I6.This initiative was a follow-up to Mr. President’s 2016 Budget Speech to the National Assembly, which sought to ensure full accountability of all public funds expended under his watch. He stated that: “We will also strengthen the controls over our personnel and pension costs with the imminent introduction of Continuous Audit Process. These initiatives will ensure that personnel costs are reduced. Our commitment to a lean and cost effective government remains a priority and the initiatives we are introducing will signal a fundamental change in how government spends public revenue.

What is Continuous Audit?

Continuous audit is an internal process that examines accounting practices, risk controls, compliance, information technology systems and business procedures on an ongoing basis. Continuous audits are usually technology-driven and designed to automate error checking and data verification in real time. A continuous audit driven system generates alarm triggers that provide notice about anomalies and errors detected by the system.
Understanding Risk ControlRisk control is a technique that utilizes findings from risk assessments within a company to reduce the risk fou…

The Buhari Administration launched PICA to exercise oversight responsibilities over internal audit practices in the public service through coordinating, facilitating, and setting standards; providing quality assurance and supporting capacity building for good governance and effective risk management. PICA has mandate to check and oversee:

All Federal MDAs irrespective of their legal status;

All budgetary and extra-budgetary receipts and payments of the Federal MDAs; and

Use of various control monitoring techniques to achieve financial accounting, reporting and risk management objectives

To identify areas of wastages and leakages in personal cost, overhead cost and capital supplementation, pensions and gratuities, service wide vote, statutory transfers, debt servicing among others;

To ensure all Federal Government receipts and payments are subjected to financial rules and regulations

To ensure that relevant provisions of the extant rules and laws are duly observed in the generation, collection and remittances of all revenues including grants, donations, aids, donor funds, taxes, loans etc;

To identify deficiencies and discrepancies, trigger alarms, and route same to appropriate Authorities for further action;

To verify controls being implemented in all MDAs, assess risk exposures and provide reasonable assurance to the area of focus;

Review the payroll and other personnel costs of all MDAs in the Federal Public Service with a focus on identifying possible leakages, inefficiencies and extra costs that can be trimmed down;

Assess the methodology of payroll and personnel costs with a view to creating substantive tests and identifying appropriate/suitable control measures used in monitoring, evaluating and managing excesses;

Summon, visit and meet with accounting and administrative officers (across levels) of the respective MDAs for the purpose of verifying details of their payroll and other personnel costs;

Obtain details of overhead cost warrants as issued by the Honourable Minister of Finance for the MDA under review;

Obtain overhead cost expenditure report on GIFMIS showing spending for a warrant period under consideration;

Evaluate pattern of spending to determine whether individual expenditure items are in line with the sub-heads as per the uploaded warrants for the period under review;

Analyze and generate report on trend analysis of revenue collection and accounting;

Review of previous monitoring reports;

Verify records of revenue generated; and

Confirm loans repayments;

Review of deduction status; and

Confirm interest due, penalties & other charges on debt servicing.

Verify and ensure cost-benefit of capital expenditures before additional spending is allowed;

Facilitate and ensure that capital expenditure decisions are taken expeditiously with necessary rigor;

Guaranteeing value for money in capital expenditure allocation;

Conduct stocktaking of all Assets & Liabilities of MDAs;

Conduct physical verification of MDAs’ Assets and reports on its findings;

Verify liability claims by vendors, contractors, public servants to ensure authenticity before authorization for payment;

Dr. Mohammed Kyari Dikwa, Secretary PICA has been coordinating and managing the affairs of PICA since its inception.

Major successes and achievements of PICA

The Continuous Audit Team conducted investigations into infractions committed by some staff of PTAD. This investigation led to disciplinary action against five (5) top management staff of PTAD including a former Director-General

Prior to the establishment of PICA, the personnel cost across Federal MDAs was high; making it difficult to channel enough funds to develop needed critical infrastructure. The intensive and diligent forensic audit of IPPIS and nominal roll carried out by PICA led to monthly reduction of personnel cost (salaries) from N 165 billion in 2016 to N151 billion, thus resulting in a monthly savings of N14bn in 2016 which was saved on a monthly pay roll verification exercise. Similarly, the exercise led to reduction in pension cost from NI5 billion to NI4.5 billion monthly. This reduction has since been sustained through efforts of the Honorable Minister of Finance.

The Federal Government in its efforts to ensure steady supply of petroleum products nationwide took measure aimed at settling outstanding debts owed to members of the Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (PPMAN). An inter-agency committee under the leadership of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) was set up to verify the claims. Other members of the committee are the Nigeria Customs Service, Debt Management Office, DPRRA and BOF. The committee which has verified and recommended some payments thus far has made remarkable savings for the Federal Government which runs into billions of Dollars.

Another major success of the Buhari administration through PICA is the whistleblower program. The Federal Government said it recovered more than N143.89 billion from corrupt officials through the implementation of the Whistleblower policy.

PICA in the course of its investigation discovered that 196 Foreign Service officers continued to receive salaries after exiting the Federal Service. The sum of N192 million was collected by these officers as salaries even after leaving the service. The case is still being investigated by the EFCC for recovery of aforementioned funds on completion of the investigation.

It further showed that the Federal Government was able to investigate 791 cases out of which 534 were completed. It also showed that the Federal Government had also been able to save N208 billion through the payroll audit of its Ministries Department and Agencies (MDAs). According to the report, N97.94 billion was saved in 2016, while N110.46 billion was saved in 2017. It said the saving was from the recovery of salaries paid to ex-diplomats, reduction in personnel costs of MDAs enjoying non regular allowances.

Remembering Dr. Dikwa, the brain behind PICA

The writer of this work was reliably informed by officials in the Ministry of Finance that PICA is a brain child of Dr. Dikwa and this was why he served as its pioneer secretary. As I earlier mentioned, public servants who truly know what is expected of them in the public service are always innovating new strategies and ways to improve the machinery of government.  The role of the ideal public servant includes contributing to the formulation of government policy by advising government on the  full range  of and implications of policy options; implementing, monitoring and evaluating approved government policies and executing approved programmes; providing continuity in government through storage .referencing and /or  classification of the basis of past government decisions and procedures  which are relevant to any issue under consideration; protecting the public interest and acting as  custodian  of public memory of policies ,decisions ,records etc., and playing the leadership role within the service and the community as a whole. Anyone  who read the preceding words as contained in Dr. Dikwa’s Public Servant Companion would agree that he truly knows what is expected of him as a public servant. A clear testimony to show that the man is walking his talk, and doing what he is preaching in PICA. PICA is an innovation of Dr. Dikwa and his team and it was able to see the light of day because of the support he got from the minister of finance (Kemi Adeosun) and the presidency. After all, one of the functions of the public servant is to assist government in revenue generation and mobilization and judicious utilization of public funds. I should like to say that Dr. Dikwa is one unique example of a public servant who obeyed and complied with the expectations and functions of the public servant in the Federal Public Service rules. If all public servants can try to emulate him, they would see themselves trying to add value by bringing in innovative ways of running government which would eventually increase efficiency and save cost. The public servant is not supposed to be redundant and unproductive. He or she is expected to be resourceful and diligent in the discharge of his or her duties.

Why did Dr. Dikwa and his team came up with the idea of PICA? Dr. Dikwa was able to diagnose some salient and debilitating problems affecting government accounting system which was hemorrhaging the economy of the country. As an experienced public servant with broader and deeper technical know-how on to audit public accounts, Dr. Dikwa was able to take cognizance of the following factors and come to the conclusion that something is wrong with the government accounting procedure and that some people were feeding fat on it. These were what he observed:

Absence of pay roll audits;

Absence of various reports;

Absence of anti-fraud controls;

Absence of controls over enrolment into payroll;

Lack of automated procedures to exit retirees;

Lack of defined approval limit for amendments to payroll;

Lack of interrogation of payroll data trends to identify irregularities;

Lack of policy framework to manage payroll costs, and lastly

Personnel Cost account for 78% and 22% of 2015 Federal Expenditures.

Dr. Amine Mati, Head of the International Monetary Fund in Nigeria also gave high rating to PICA when he granted an interview to the Northeast Star magazine in Abuja in 2017. Mati said:

PICA has also contributed significantly to reducing corruption by focusing on cleaning up the Federal government’s payroll and pension’s systems. It is important to note that PICA helped the government realize significant savings by eliminating ghost workers while the whistle blowing program, which is also being coordinated by PICA, resulted in financial recoveries.

The above were major reasons the public till was depleted to the detriment of Nigerians and except for the fact that Dr. Dikwa through the support of Mrs. Adeosun came up with PICA and saw to its implementation, this anomaly would have continued up to today. It is good to note that Dr. Dikwa and his team resolved to stop this wanton pillaging of the public till because they were not part of those who were committing this illegality. Dr. Dikwa’s tenure as AG in Borno afforded him the chance to experiment with different innovative IT accounting techniques to block leakages. He was aware that the use of e-payment and e-collection, and other ways of controlling government expenditure.

Dr. Dikwa is no longer in PICA but someone capable is now in charge.

His ability to identify and develop capable hands in the finance ministry, endeared him to many of the staff. Dr. Dikwa is a man who places high premium on competence, loyalty, dedication and willingness to learn. He doesn’t care about region, religion or one’s political opinion. Once a staff is willing to learn and the staff in question can display the virtues required of any good follower, Dr. Dikwa will go extra miles to provide opportunities for the staff to be trained in and outside the shores of Nigeria. As a result, he was able to cultivate a crop of loyal and dedicated staff in the ministry who put in extra efforts to see that policies of government are implemented. There are days when Dr. Dikwa and his staff worked all through to 11 p.m. This dedicated team under the guidance and direction of an astute technocrat formed the team that was able to achieve the following for Nigeria:

       i.            Over 52,000 ghost workers were identified and removed from the federal government’s MDAs payroll.

     ii.            Another major achievement of Dr. Dikwa was the verification of oil marketers’ subsidy claims which helped the government to save 200bn.

  iii.            PICA’s verification of MDAs requests for payments claims on recurrent expenditure also made the Buhari administration to save over 20bn.

  iv.            Discussions are also on-going on the verification of pensioners with the Military Pensions Board and PTAD on strategies for reducing pension related expenditures in Nigeria.

     v.            Personnel found to be culpable in the padding of federal payroll are currently being investigated by the EFCC. Already eleven persons have been charged to court for the law to take its course.

  vi.            Drastic reduction in the non-regular allowances of the Nigerian Armed forces and paramilitary agencies resulted in savings of over N30bn in 2016 and N23.5bn in 2017;

vii.            Foreign diplomats found to have received over 200m as over payment are being investigated by the EFFC;

viii.            The Whistle Blower unit was able to help government to identify MDAs that were violating TSA and other PFM reforms and the violations had been fixed while those that have to do with fraud are being investigated by relevant agencies like the EFFC;

  ix.            Dr. Dikwa was able to coordinate the smooth migration of the Nigerian Armed Forces personnel to IPPIS platform so as to ensure accountability and transparency.

     x.            Concerning the Whistle Blowing Unit, Nigerians are aware that many successes were achieved. Numerous tips have been referred to the EFCC, ICPC and the DSS those that fall under the purview of PICA have been successfully treated which led to the saving of N296 Million;

  xi.            PICA, in December 2017 conducted a head count of prisoners across the federation to enable the federal government know the actual number of prisoners in the country so as budget properly.

xii.            A major achievement of the Buhari led administration’s fight against corruption is the saving of N3.5bn on personnel cost released to MDAs since January last year. This great achievement of the government was done through Dr. Dikwa’s team in PICA. There was the case of an Agency which had eleven accounts in commercial banks that were closed down and moved to the TSA;

xiii.            Even the Federal Inland Revenue top management officials that were shortchanging the nation were not spared. PICA identified those of them involved in corrupt practices in the handling of tax and handed them over to the EFFC;

Indeed Dr. Joe Abah, former Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms who happens to be one of the finest, resourceful and innovative public servants to ever emerge in Nigeria captured it right when he aptly said that no country had developed in the last 50 years without a vibrant public service. Dr. Abah observed that at independence, from 1957, our civil service was one of the best in the Commonwealth; the public servants worked without asking for gratification, commendation or any such thing. This was because the public servant of those days could afford to own a home, buy a car; they were not rich but they were not poor. They took good care of their families. This went on until the mid-70s, then things began to nose dive and fall apart. According to Dr. Abah, Nigeria began to see a dedicated reform to fix the civil or public service and this is why we can now boast of some resourceful, professionally minded but most importantly honest public servants who understand that the role of the public service is to ensure due diligence and stop arbitrariness in government.

Dr MS writes from Abuja

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