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As Buhari Unveils Treasury Secrets

In a country where a voodoo-like culture of secrecy, shadows the handling of public funds by government officials, the recent directive by President Muhamadu to the Treasury to make public, the daily transactions of MDAs, could not have been more welcome. According to tweets by Mr Waziri Adio the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency International (NEITI), Buhari had directed the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) to publish on a daily basis, the expenditures of all MDAs on a dedicated portal http://opentreasury.gov.ng.

The initiative which comes under the Open Treasury Portal, is intended to make public the daily treasury statement on how monies that come into the coffers of the federal government are spent. The specific details for publication by all MDAs include payments in excess of N5 million, monthly budget performance as well as quarterly and annual financial statements. Just as well, the Accountant General of the Federation shall also publish on a daily basis, the transactions of the treasury in excess of N10 million.

All of such transactions shall be presented in compliance with the Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), and shall be delivered within stipulated deadlines. 

Novel and rather unexpected by the Nigerian public as the initiative is, the President may have through it scored a bull’s eye in his efforts at rescuing an otherwise faltering anti-corruption crusade. Ordinarily, details of financial transactions of any form in virtually all public offices in Nigeria, are reserved for a select few who have direct dealings with such designated matters of finance, and no one else.

In fact, it constitutes a mortal sin for any member of the select few to divulge the details of financial transactions to anybody outside the precincts of any particular office. Not surprisingly therefore, this situation has been the primary cause of the wide spread syndrome of conspiratorial and mindless looting as well as sharing of public funds without fear of reprisals, in most cases. Hence the rash of stories of theft and loss of humongous sums of money from the public till, by as many as find themselves close to it. In some offices there is actually a contest among staffers over how much each of them can or has successfully looted. It is as bad as that.

For many Nigerians, this development provides – even on a marginal basis, an opportunity to heave a sigh of relief that at least one can foresee the day when public finance management in Nigeria, shall enjoy a turn for the better. In any case, it is not that Nigerians are largely unaware of the questionable flows of public largesse into nefarious ends and purposes. Rather, the conspiratorial airs that pervade the scenes of criminal looting of public funds, easily deny the public of effective real time tracking of the flow and quantum of the sleaze.

Indeed, it is courtesy of the efforts by several due-process minded interests and organisations such as the NGOs, that a cross section of the citizenry has been sensitized in respect of much of this messy situation. Hence, the Presidential initiative on Open Treasury Portal qualifies as a major and welcome turn in the anti-corruption campaign, as it offers the citizenry some modicum of oversight powers. 

The foregoing notwithstanding, the problem area with the Open Treasury Portal initiative remains that of implementation. As is easily recalled, throughout the life of the Buhari presidency, several well intentioned initiatives have been launched and have plodded on with less than satisfactory runs in progress. At this juncture the mention of a few of such will suffice. Take for instance the case of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) project which was launched in 2015 by the federal government with provision for concurrent participation by states and even local governments. It is remarkable that over four years after its advent, the programme is still recording glaring violations by several MDAs of the federal government, while not a few states are yet to migrate unto it.

Coming to the Integrated Payroll Payment Information System (IPPIS) the signals coming around it, especially as concern the country’s university community, point to a compromised administrative measure which manifests issues bordering on across-the-board implementation. Against whatever promise the initiative offers the country, it remains a matter of concern that the government is yet to work out an accommodation with some sections of the country including the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), leading to fears of another looming industrial action by the members.

Moving over to the National Identity Card project executed by the National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC), the situation remains an inchoate one with official red-tapism holding sway. This is in spite of its strategic significance to the critical issue of national security and other matters associated with citizen profiling. As at present the question of when all Nigerians will be captured in the ID card data base, not to talk of being issued with the cards, has its answer blowing in the wind.

As for electric power sector reforms under the Buhari presidency, the situation remains as static as a non-starter. As always the President will proclaim highly inspiring intentions with his lieutenants following up with assurances of performance; many of which in the end, turn out to be hollow. In spite of the serial official excoriation of past administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar Adua and Goodluck Jonathan over their failures in providing steady and uninterrupted electricity for Nigerians, the present administration has yet to deliver a better package.

However, in no other area has public misgiving over the relative incontinence of the Buhari administration been more pronounced than in the anti-corruption fight which the present Open Treasury initiative is intended to address. To say the campaign is running according to plan is to misread the situation and Buhari is hopefully aware of that. The drastic provisions of the Open Treasury Portal qualify to be seen as inspired by  Buhari’s fight-back mindset, and testify to his concern over shoring up the  fight against corruption.

Yet, as it is with the other instances of poor follow-through by his lieutenants, how far they will help to make the Open Treasury Portal succeed must remain a burden to President Muhamadu Buhari. Drawing from lessons of the past however, he needs to change tactics with respect to dealing with his lieutenants this time around, to ensure the intentions of the Open Treasury Portal are realized, no matter the circumstances. That will place him on the same page with the wider cross section of Nigerians.

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