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ICPC EXAMINATION OF MDAs

By NBF News

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) recently announced commencement of 'fraud examination' of the 426 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government. Chairman of the Commission, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, explained that the examination is in respect of the management and execution of the 2009 budget by the MDAs.

The anti-graft agency, however, will only examine adherence to due process in public procurement and not budget performance, as has been wrongly conceived in some quarters.

We welcome the ICPC examination of MDAs. Whatever initiative is adopted by the organisation to tackle corruption in the public service is good, as long as such is within the purview of the law setting up the commission.

The question to ask, indeed, is why it has even taken this long to bring fraud examiners to the MDAs. The problem of corruption in Nigeria is mostly at the level of the ministries and agencies of government. Corruption often begins at units in the ministries, where input into budget planning is manipulated to accommodate personal interests. Over-estimation of funds required for projects begin at this level, so it is necessary for the anti-graft commission to begin its examination at the level of the units.

Although ministerial budgets are defended at the National Assembly, this has not been enough to tackle corruption in the ministries because those who draw up the budgets come well prepared to defend them.

Successful defence of budgets at the National Assembly does not, therefore, totally close the door against corruption in the ministries. Outsiders need to come into the institutions to find out what is being procured, and through what process, to ensure everything is being done as it should. In this wise, the ICPC is to act like an external auditor to the MDAs in the matter of public procurement.

However, the position of ICPC that it will not audit the accounts of the MDAs is not cheering. Although that position is likely due to respect for the law setting up the commission which may not empower it to audit accounts of MDAs, it would have been good to examine the books of the institutions to ensure that they are not overstated, marked up or doctored in any way.

The ICPC, even while not conducting a general audit, should go beyond adherence to due process in procurement. It should send out strong feelers for fraud under any guise, and prosecute anyone who is found to have aided such. The issue of un-remitted funds of departments and agencies of government also need to be put under a bright searchlight.

If ICPC does not have the manpower to do a general audit, it should strive to build capacity to carry out such activities but must ensure it always acts within the bounds of the law setting it up. Activities of the commission must not conflict with that of the Due Process office. If there are any loopholes in our law books that will make it impossible for institutions like the ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to conduct general fraud audits in the MDAs, the judicial system should do something about it. These institutions should be empowered to make examples of fraudulent public officers to deter fraud in the institutions.

The ICPC should do everything it can against corruption in the ministries so thoroughly and effectively that people can see the reason for its intervention in the public organisations. Let ICPC, in this fraud examination, set a precedent that will have a deterrent effect on corrupt elements in the MDAs. If anti-graft institutions, as presently empowered and constituted, cannot examine general budget performance, let the Budget Monitoring Office rise up to do so. Fraud examination of budget implementation in the MDAs is sorely needed to reduce corruption in the system.