The published 2019 annual audited financial report of Akwa Ibom State Government has sparked more controversies.
The Office of the State Accountant-General had published and circulated copies of the document to Ministries, Departments and Agencies but copies of the document termed ‘authentic’ were made available to journalists for scrutiny on November 18.
This development came after an extensive investigation which lasted for two months was published on Tuesday, November 17, revealing that offices of the Governor and Secretary to State Government, SSG, incurred unbudgeted expenses in excess of N10 billion on the maintenance of the State aircraft, purchase of cars, fuel and lubricants, Governor’s hospitality.
Since the publication of an investigative report bordering on the document, the Offices of the State Auditor-General and of the State Accountant-General have bandied one statement or the other, thus putting the financial credibility of the government into a serious test.
Appearing before Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on Public Accounts Committee last Friday, Dr. Monday Akpan, the state Auditor-General denied knowledge of withdrawing the said audited financial report for 2019.
“It is erroneous to say that the report was withdrawn. We had presented our 2019 to this committee and we have not withdrawn it. It is wrong to say so.”
This, no doubt, is the first contradiction.
Before then, Akan Okon, the Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, at a press interaction, last Wednesday, had attributed an investigative report by two journalists to what he called “extra – budgetary expenses spotted in its Accountant General’s Annual Report and audited statements of the state for 2019 were caused by “coding errors.”
Okon claimed the annual report was withdrawn via a circular dated 2nd September 2020, after errors were spotted in the annual report and audited financial statements circulated by the state government.
He emphasised that the IPSAS template is new to the state.
“As you are all aware, our account is prepared under IPSAS and this is a new system. It is very cumbersome. Even printers are having challenges. In the process of printing our 2019 budget (Accountant General Report) there was a coding error. This was promptly discovered by the office of the Accountant General and a memo was issued retrieving that Account that was in error. And the correct one, properly coded.”
“You need to read this side-by-side with the state budget 2019 and you’ll come to the conclusion that there was no extra-budgetary expenditure by the government and that all expenditures were in line with the budget and some of them here, the amount spent was not up to the budgeted amount,” Okon said.
This is another major contradiction.
Akwa Ibom state government adopted the International Public Sector Accounting Standards template in preparation and reporting of her financial accounts since 2014 under the Chief Godswill Akpabio administration.
The Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan, said the extra-budgetary expenditures noted in the first annual report was a result of coding error.
“In Akwa Ibom State, we want to assure you that the governor we have is a man of integrity. God who judges and knows the heart knows that he as a human being has tried everything possible to ensure that resources of this State are properly accounted for as it is being managed. I want Akwa Ibom people to be rest assured that their resources are in good hands and they are managed properly.
“Errors like these happen. We didn’t know that this will happen. The Accountant General and the finance sector had taken steps to correct this. If we had known that it is going to happen, maybe we would have even called this press conference”, the Finance Commissioner said on Wednesday.
Nkan defended the over -expenditures, saying that the State Executive Council has the powers to carry out virement.
He argued that they “leveraged on margin of increased cost” provided in the budget office to spend more monies than what were approved on aircraft maintenance, cars, fuel and lubricants, security, welfare for pilgrims, government special projects, governor’s hospitality, among others.
The Commissioner said “virement process in budgeting allows the Executive to move items from a subhead that is under-utilised to another that needs attention…it is not always easy to anticipate everything that will be needed to be done immediately. So, provisions must be made for unforeseen circumstances or events.”
This is also a contradiction as expenditure and budget instrument are different.
However, Iniobong Ememobong, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, has said that the government would continue to engage the public on issues arising from the contentious report.
“We are open to extensive discussions on 2019. Interestingly, we are discussing money that has already been spent and the issues have already been done. We are open to these discussions because we are servants of the people.
“We are holding public office in trust for the people. That is why we are happy to be here to explain to you, that is why we are also open for further discussions on this matter”, Ememobong said.
The ‘errors’ and the timing in the withdrawal of the supposed published report via a circular continue as bones of controversy sticking out for questioning.