Reps, foreign affairs ministry bicker over alleged extra-budgetary spending

Following alleged gross abuse of the Appropriations Act 2022 and the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Wednesday declined to consider and allow defence of the ministry’s 2023 budget.

Chairman of the committee, Yusuf Buba Yakub, said this when Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffery Onyeama led the ministry’s officials on budget defence at the National Assembly.

The committee said it would only examine the budget if the ministry corrected the violations found in the document.

The lawmaker said Section 80 (1-4) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 Constitution (as amended) grants the National Assembly has the  authority to approve the expenditure of all revenue receipts, including those deposited in the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and to supervise how these funds were used.

Before a ministry could ask for another appropriation,  Buba said, all funds appropriated to MDAs like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others had to be accounted for, hence, the budget defence session.

However, he said, in violation of Section 7 of the Appropriations Act 2022, the ministry  had consistently ordered  embassies to keep and use money in their capital accounts without receiving any permission from the National Assembly.

“It beats every logic that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has deliberately refused to abide by the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and by other statutes of the land, including the Standing Orders of the House.

“The question this committee is asking the Minister of Foreign Affairs is: Is he bigger than Nigeria and its laws? Or how else will one explain the constant flagrant abuse of the laws of the land even when we have continued to write letters to the ministry reminding it of relevant provisions of our laws that demand abiding by.

“According to Section 10 of the Appropriations Act 2022 (as Amended), Missions and Embassies have been empowered to constitute their Tender Board for the purpose of the procurements they need to make.

“We have called the attention of the Minister to this Act, but he has continued to direct the Missions not to obey this law in spite of receiving about four letters on the issue, including the latest one of 6 September 2022.

“In addition to the above, Section 7 of the Appropriations Act 2022 (As Amended), captures, inter alia, that “The Minister of Finance shall ensure that funds appropriated under this Act are released to the appropriate agencies and or organs of government as and when due, provided that no funds for any quarter of the fiscal year shall be deferred without prior waiver from the National Assembly,” the lawmaker further said.

The committee also said: “In total disregard for the above, the Ministry has continued to direct Missions to retain and spend monies in their capital accounts without any waivers from the National Assembly. A 23rd September 2022 letter by this Committee that was sent to the Ministry, as a reminder to earlier ones, still did not stop the Ministry from flouting the laws of the land.

“Being aware that administrative charges have been approved at the Missions by Mr President, this Committee, in line with Section 80 (3 and 4) CFRN (as amended) has also observed that in total disregard to what the law says, the minister has continued to authorise the spending of monies generated through administrative charges at the Missions without being appropriated by the National Assembly.

“In conclusion, it is important to note that this committee has continued to draw the attention of the ministry to the above-noted infractions, but all to no avail.”

The committee therefore said for it to consider the 2023 budget, the ministry must order all missions to abide by Section 10 of the 2022 Appropriations Act (as Amended) and submit to the National Assembly budget proposals for 2023 that include information about the missions’ and embassies’ targeted administrative charge revenues.

Additionally, the committee directed  the ministry to  provide members with a list of all money still available from the missions’ capital component allocations in order to obtain the requisite National Assembly waivers.

Minister responds

Debunking the committee’s claims, Mr Onyeama said he never directed the Missions to disregard the Act.

He said: “I did not in any way tell them to disregard these requirements regarding the administrative charges. We are also in the process of explaining to them what they have to do to send it for appropriation before spending, not just spending anyhow.

“Also, on unspent funds under capital-seeking wavers, we have brought this to their attention and again, we are in the process of developing template for all the missions to follow.

“I would like to beg Mr. Chairman that contrary to your assertion, the ministry is in no way trying to flout the laws of the land and trying to appropriate to itself powers that it does not have. We have here and we can submit to this committee evidence of directives we have given to the missions.”

Reps frown at poor OAuGF budget 

In a related development, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts also rejected the N5.112 billion total budget for Office of the Auditor General of the Federation as contained in the 2023 Appropriation Bill currently being considered by the National Assembly.

Also, the committee summoned Minister of Finance, Dr. Zainab Ahmed, Acting Accountant General of the Federation Sylva Okolieaboh and  Director General Budget Office of the Federation Ben Nwabueze.

The committee gave them seven-day ultimatum to appear and explain why the budget of such a strategic office should be so meager.

Auditor General of the Federation, Andrew Onwudili, had while briefing the Wole Oke-led committee said though the office proposed a total budget of N11.151 billion, what was put in the budget was N5.112 billion.

He said the office had proposed a personnel cost of N3.041 billion as against the N2.349 billion contained in the budget, a proposal of N5.59 billion for overhead costs as against the N2.113 billion, and a proposal of N2.52 billion instead of the N62.70 million contained in the budget estimates.

Reacting to the development, Oke said: “It is very important at this point in time to state observations. We want to observe that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari was elected based on his promise, determination to tame corruption and to humble corruption in our country.

“And one of the institutions, as a matter of fact, the fundamental institution which the crafters of our constitution put in place under Section 85 is the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation. By Act of the Parliament, we have created ancillary institutions like ICPC, EFCC to work with the products, with the findings of the Office of the Auditor General after due consideration by the parliament.

“It is very unfortunate that we have noticed the concerted effort, determination to undermine the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, to eradicate, to repeal illegally the supreme audit institution of this country. We have seen the determination of the lieutenants of Mr. President, particularly the minister of finance, the DG budget office to undermine Mr. President in his determination to wage war against corruption on the land.

“Otherwise, why would you allocate several billions to ancillary institutions and you are giving N62 million to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation to fund Capital? They have to go cap in hand to pay for workers? They are understaffed, they are undermined? They cannot conduct performance audit. As we speak, this office is yet to lay their reports in respect of 2022 and 2021 financial years.

“Or, are they telling Nigerians that even the objectives laid by Mr President is determined to undermine this supreme audit institution? Otherwise, Mr President would have assented to that Bill presented to him, and this would have given the Auditor General’s office its rightful place in our country.

“We reject this budget. This budget cannot work. The Auditor General of the Federation, the minister of finance, the two of them are hereby summoned to appear before this committee, to come and tell Nigerians. The minister for finance, the DG Budget, the Accountant General of the Federation, the three of them should cause appearance before this committee and tell Nigerians why they are undermining the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation.”