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OBEYING FINANCIAL REGULATIONS (2)

By NBF News
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One must start this column  this week with an apology for its absence on Monday, April 9. As you may recall, that was Easter Monday - the day which the scriptural records record as liberation day for Jesus Christ. Liberation from the pains inflicted on Him by fellow human beings three days earlier, by generally molesting the man; nailing Him in the legs and hands and then crucifying Him on a bright sunny day on Golgotha Mountain.

That means that Jesus (the name some people love to hate), endured pains of unimaginable proportions to which those who had acted His part in plays and films cannot be truly subjected, for Fundamental Human Rights  reasons.However authentic any of the directors may wish to be, that would amount to plain murder, come to think of it, not so?

And so, from the Via Dolorossa, 'Anobi Yisa' (or prophet Jesus), as He is known to Muslims, in the Holy Koran passages, went from our earthly grass to divine grace, and is where no man can harm Him any longer. An understatement, indeed!

As we were saying before the Easter Holidays, the House of Reps deserves commendation for manifesting interest in promoting the sanitation (and progress) of the Nigerian Capital Market, by setting up a probe panel under its Committee on Capital Market and other Institutions.

Those who have been following the story and do not normally like repetitions know the details: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Director- General, Ms. Arunma Oteh, who was recently accused of various financial improprieties (spending N30 million on hotel bills in eight months contrary to public service rules; 'spending N850,000 and N85,000 in feeding on separate days in the same hotel, among others), fired her own rocket at the probe panel chairman, Hon. Mr. Herman Hembe.

She said the man, received an 'estacode and a first class ticket to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference on emerging trends in the capital market,' which he reportedly 'did not attend and did not return the money to SEC';that it was erroneous to view the matter as a bribe but rather as a negotiable request for the SEC to contribute towards funding 'the committee's public hearings on the state of the market', according to media reports. Mr. Hembe then wisely stepped aside.

While appreciating the emergence of a new panel chairman in the person of Hon. Ibrahim El-Sudi, we need to ask ourselves whether or not this whole probe exercise is not a further capital waste of our national time and resources.

Before now, we had often heard from voices within and without the country (including President Barack Obama of the USA, who unfortunately decided to present a medical doctor to challenge our own economic and financial guress,Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the World Bank's No1  position), that we should at these times be strengthening our institutions and not empowering 'strongmen'.

The attempt to probe the capital market in 2012 without clearly distinctively how many leaders of the SEC and from which year will be covered by the probe, gives this humble writer the impression that the country will end up being short-changed in the long run, as those who should be telling us the truths about the SEC and the capital market as well as Stock Exchange, may have been deviously excluded from the exercise, especially those who occupied strategic positions there before Ms. Arunnma Oteh stepped in.

Let us face it: While Nigerian newspapers were running stories on contaminated fuel as far back as March 5, 2008, there are all signs that the contamination of the Capital Market through some shady deals was left unchecked, may be  because powerful and really heavy personalities were 'on seat'  then. A consideration of insider -  trading allegations then at the committee level of the House alone, will reveal that Ms. Oteh is not the rightest person that should face the music when the 'genesis, exodus and revelations' of the transactions which threatened stability and progress in the country's Capital Market, are objectively scrutinized.

And if the House of Representatives and its Committee on Capital Market and other Institutions were not forthcoming in disclosing others to be probed (past and present personalities of course), then those who suspect muck-raking and 'bed belle' in some quarters, cannot be blamed for shouting out now: Go the whole log, or forget this new,potential charade. In other words, please recall that by March 18, 2008, the House of Representatives' top story was about the '$16billion power sector probe to unravel President Musa Yar'Adua's claim that $10billion was extended on the sector by the last (Obasanjo) administration, yet there was nothing to show for it'.

The panel, which was headed by the still Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, decided to and actually invited 'some of the former officials of the past administration (pre-Yar'Adua), including Oby Ezekwesili; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross State,' according to some editorial bulletins in my possession. Just how far do the present House of Representatives members intend to go on this Capital Market matter? If they do not say it, how can we know it and entirely establish  their motives?

However, the capital market was only a side – attraction in choosing this topic. The real issue can be put in the  form of questions: Do we have any surviving  regulations on the way public funds are kept and spent? In the 1970s and 1980s (especially before the Murtala Muhammed coup d'etat in 1975), we often heard of 'Financial Instructions (FIs)' and 'Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIE).' Under those rules, no civil servant or government official for that matter, could keep government money outside the treasury or authorized banks without facing sanctions.

The displeasure of administrative superiors was certain and facing sanctions because of laxity in the handling   of public funds was not tolerated. As an Assistant Secretary and Liaison Officer with my fellow youth corps members at the National Youth Corps (NYSC) Secretariat in Calabar, Cross - River State, between 1975 and 1976, this practice of not being found with 'government money' without authority or not 'retiring' such monies promptly, was still thankfully in force!

What is happening now defies description and demands immediate stoppage: Why should any official keep N2billion cash (Police pensions money),in his house? Two billion naira in cash! That could never have happened in the 'Nigeria of the past' , where fiscal discipline was the rule, rather than the exception. How come such money that should have been kept in the banks was instead banked in an official's house?

As for those who think that government money should rightly be kept in Government House, how do we guard against pilfering of such public funds? How dutifully do the Ministries, Departments and Agencies account for the expenditures of funds allocated to them? Is this laissez-faire attitude on the keeping (outside Banks and Treasuries), of public funds not shameful enough to deserve a change now? How did it come about in the first place? And who will stop that bad habit here?

Houses are not banks: we just cannot carry on like this!