President Muhammadu Buhari, says no public officer should be afraid of audit, if they have no skeleton in their cupboards, saying public servants must see audit as a means of improving their performance.

The president stated this when he declared open the second edition of the conference of Auditors-General in Nigeria in Abuja on Tuesday.

Buhari challenged auditors to adhere to the professional code of conduct guiding their operations, while ensuring timely and quality review of financial performance of public officers.

He also charged Auditors-General in Nigeria to maximise the use of their constitutional powers in the fight against corruption.

”As accountability institutions in the Federal, States and Local Governments, and as the institutions empowered under the Constitution to review the financial performance of public officers even where there has been no petition or allegation, you are uniquely placed to tackle corrupt practices.

”Through your audit findings and recommendations, corrupt practices would be discovered early and loopholes blocked before they are exploited.

”Furthermore, you have the full range of audit tools at your disposal including financial compliance, performance and information technology audits.

”There is literally no aspect of government performance or expenditure you cannot examine. What may be missing is the will to properly deploy the powers that you have.

”In which case, I will remind you that under-performance by auditors, or ineffective audits, contribute largely to governance problems. Auditors therefore need to decide not to be part of the problem but the arrow to the solution,” he said.

While commenting on the 2016 and 2017 Annual Reports of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the president noted that the audit opinion was in line with the reality of corruption, mismanagement and misappropriation facing the nation.

Buhari commended the Auditor-General of the Federation for his efforts, saying: ”I want to encourage you to continue to do your best. It is important that all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are kept on their toes through timely and high-quality audits.”

According to the president, his administration is fully aware of the value that audit and scrutiny brings to the performance of governance functions.

He, therefore, assured the professionals that regular and constant monitoring of performance would be prioritised as the federal government rolls out its Development Plan.

”We know that MDAs charged with delivery of activities that impact the lives of Nigerians can all monitor and report their own performance, but the most reliable measure is an accurate and independent assessment by external auditors.

”This is one key reason all tiers of government in Nigeria need a strong external audit function,” he said.

The president also highlighted some key achievements in the fight against corruption through government anti-corruption agencies, especially the EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau and others.

He said: ”These successes include significant arrests, recoveries of cash and properties purchased with stolen funds and the blockage of loopholes through which people siphon public funds.

”You may also have noted the progress made by the Judiciary in the trials of several cases and the sanctions and sentences being handed out to offenders.

”You will also be aware of this administration’s Financial Transparency Policy and the launch of the Open Treasury Portal at the end of 2019. This again is to improve on accountability, access to information for all citizens and the timeliness of financial information.

”You can see that a lot has been done, but there is so much more to do, as the cancer of corruption has deeply affected our country and our governance practices, and the fight cannot be won until all tiers of government and indeed the generality of Nigerians are determined to join the fight against corruption.’’

While acknowledging that auditors are facing several challenges, the president noted that very few states had the operational and financial independence necessary to deliver high level performance.

He assured the auditors that efforts are being made to strengthen the independence of their offices, encouraging them to strive to achieve maximum impact with the powers they currently have.

”My expectation for the future is to see audits conducted at all tiers of Government with more impactful findings.

“I expect audit institutions to be able to report the amount of financial impacts and savings they have achieved for their government, along with non-financial impacts,” he said.

Emphasising the need for quality audit, Buhari asked the conference to reflect on the following:

”Has any annual Financial Statements produced by any of the States received anything other than a clean audit opinion as far back as you can remember?

”You will admit this is strange, in view of the significant cases of misappropriation that have been uncovered, the huge balances that have been recovered and the sentences being served by convicted officials including past state governors.

”One can either assume the audits are not thoroughly done, the auditors have been compromised, or the auditors are constrained in some way or other.

”You will know best what your constraints are, but I encourage you to reflect on this issue. What will it take to do a thorough job for the sake of your Local Government, your State, Nigeria and for the sake of future generations?”

In his remarks, the Auditor-General of the Federation, Mr Anthony Ayine, identified the absence of an Audit Act, which is a basic requirement for Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of Nigeria, as a major impediment for audit institutions in the country.

According to him, the Audit Ordnance of 1958 which the country was using is no longer in the statute books of Nigeria.

Ayine, therefore, called for the enactment of Audit Laws to further strengthen the audit institutions to perform better.

The Auditor-General pledged total support of auditors to the administration’s fight against corruption.

He acknowledged that the presidential directive in 2015 to MDAs to ensure prompt response to audit queries has been very effective in ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s resources.

Ayine also noted other successful initiatives of the federal government to promote accountability and transparency in governance, including Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and other electronic platforms that ensure blockage of leakages.

A major highlight of the event was the presentation of ”Champion of Transparency and Anti-Corruption” Award to Buhari by the Conference of Auditors-General in Nigeria. (NAN)

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