10.09.2013 Feature Article

Fiscal Noise Commission

Fiscal Noise Commission
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Nigeria is the giant of Africa in name, no doubt. But in action, Nigeria is more or less like a lame duck. For well over five decades, crude oil and other rich mineral resources have been discovered and exploited in huge commercial quantities and the nation's large population still battle with mass poverty and insecurity, no thanks to the rich presence in the polity of well endowed criminal elements who have taken the commanding lead in the various segments of Nigeria's political spectrum thereby institutionalizing corruption and fiscal indiscipline.

In the last two decades, corruption has become the single largest contributor to Nigeria's underdevelopment, infrastructure deficits and mass poverty even as successive governments over the years have failed to build viable regulatory and enforcement institutions to check the unprecedented spread of these social vices of corruption, bribery and outright theft of public resources by top government officials at all levels beginning from the federal down to the rural government settings.

One of the ways worked out by the previous government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to stem the high tide of corruption was the setting up of fiscal Responsibility Commission among few other anti-graft institutions. The formation of these anti-graft agencies derived inspiration basically from section 15[5] of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999[as amended] which frowns against corruption and abuse of power and consequently obliges all segments of the Nigerian society to eradicate corruption.

The fiscal Responsibility Commission was one of the logical products of the resolve of corporate Nigeria to strangulate corruption and fiscal indiscipline that constitute serious cog in the wheel of progress of Nigeria. Fiscal responsibility commission on paper has the vision of ensuring the enthronement of a regime of prudent, ethical and effective management of public monies and resources across all tiers of government.

The Fiscal responsibility commission's mission on paper is to reform the management of Nigeria's public finances through regular monitoring of government financial activities, uncompromising investigation and public reporting backed by a firm commitment to enforcement under the rule of law.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007 saddled the body with the functions of among others; to monitor and enforce the provisions of the Act and by so doing, promote economic objectives contained in section 16 of the Nigerian Constitutions; and to disseminate such standard practices including international good practices that will result in greater efficiency in the allocation and management of public expenditure, revenue collection, debt control and transparency in Fiscal matters.

It was established by the fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007 as an independent agency in the performance of its core functions.

But since 2007 when it became operational, it is a notorious fact that fiscal indiscipline and abuses of the provisions of the fiscal responsibility law have become widespread just as this agency saddled with these onerous tasks of tackling the challenges of corruption has conveniently gone to sleep and become a toothless bull dog. Total lack of transparency now characterizes the handling of public fund by all sections of public officials including bureaucrats in the various federal ministries.

Like few other dysfunctional anti-graft institutions, the fiscal responsibility commission has consistently become very irresponsible and has become only responsible in creating media noise without ever adopting effective measures to name, shame, prosecute and punish offenders. Coupled with the fact that the fiscal commission is run like a secret society devoid of transparent partnership of credible civil society groups, this agency of government which cost tax payers so much resources to maintain has become a dysfunctional contraption and the only way to save the country from tolerating a perfectly incompetent and unworkable contraption is to introduce radical reforms of the administration of this near-moribund fiscal responsibility commission.

By law, the fiscal Responsibility Commission ought to be composed of representatives of broad spectrum of schools of thought including the civil society groups engaged in causes relating to probity, transparency and governance, the selection process of the hierarchy of this agency has become opaque and muddled up in partisan politics.

A major imperfection of the fiscal responsibility body is the total disregard of the freedom of information Act of 2011 even when the constitution in section 15(5) provides that; 'The state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.'

Recently, the fiscal responsibility commission denied the request under freedom of information Act of 2011 instituted by HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA to compel the boss of that agency to name and shame a top public office holder he accused in a newspaper interview (without disclosing identity) of large scale corruption.

The human rights group had requested that the chairman of the fiscal commission disclose the identity of a top federal government official that was indicted of cornering to himself huge government revenue in foreign denominations of a particular agency but the fiscal responsibility chairman denied the Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria that germane request supported by section 1 of the freedom of information Act.

The chairman of the fiscal Responsibility Commission had in an interview published on August 6th 2013 by Daily Trust accused the unnamed government official of stealing millions of dollars belonging to the federal government.

The human rights group had innocuously demanded that the fiscal commission give Nigerians the name of the official since the money stolen rightly belonged to the people of Nigeria but as is the practice with the dysfunctional state of affairs of most federal government agencies which still operate the corruption - friendly principle of 'say no evil even when you see evil happening', it failed to respond to this patriotic request.

Hiding under the nebulous provision of the fiscal responsibility Act, the agency said it will not honour the freedom of information request because disclosing the name of the indicted official will harm the ongoing investigation.

'I can confirm to you that the Fiscal Responsibility Commission will withhold the information you have requested because we consider that the exemptions under the following section of the F.O.I. Act, 2011 apply to your request. They are section 14(1)(e) and Section 12(1)(a),(i),(ii),(iii),(iv),(vi);(4)'

'We appreciate that this will be a considerable disappointment to you and would herein endeavour to explain to you why we reached the decision to refuse your request as outlined above, 'the fiscal commission gladly announced to the Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria.

Annoyingly, few days after refusing to name and shame a public official indicted by it for large scale fraud, the same fiscal responsibility commission was quoted in the Nigerian media (The Guardian, Friday September 6th 2013, pg. 1) as raising alarm over the recklessness of states in Nigeria to over borrow.

The fiscal responsibility commission also regretted that only five states out of the 36 states in Nigeria have embraced the Fiscal Responsibility Act in the last six years of its existence.

But I have this piece of news for this noisy commission and that is to tell the officials to desist from disturbing our peace with irrelevant noise since the hierarchy cannot provide the required leadership qualities for other federating units to embrace the law.

What do you expect from the body when the head is rotten? 'Physician, heal thyself,' [courtesy of the Holy Bible].

The officials of the Nigeria's fiscal responsibility commission should please buy a copy of the well researched leadership book from the prestigious Harvard Business School titled; 'Hand Book of leadership theory and practice.'

In the section one of this book where the versatile authors analytically highlighted the all important issue of 'the impact of leadership: performance and meaning,' whereby they stated rightly thus; ' Put simply, if leadership does not directly impact or significantly impact organizational performance, then leadership does not matter to organizational life.'

To tackle the widespread cases of fiscal indiscipline, corruption and inefficiency in the running of government business, agencies like the fiscal responsibility commission must say no to the business-as-usual tendency of covering up for corrupt officials and become vibrant anti-graft institutions.

Editor's Note:

*Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; [email protected];

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