Malami cleared N10.4bn judgment debts without due process – Audit report

Nigeria's Minister for Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN

An audit conducted on the account of the Ministry of Justice has revealed how the sum of N10.4bn was released for judgement debt without laid-down procedures.

The audit, which was conducted by auditors from the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, also revealed how the sum of N32.5m was spent by officials of the ministry on foreign travels without approval.

Details of the infractions were contained in the audit report of the Auditor-General, a copy of which was obtained by our correspondent in Abuja.

The audit report was signed by the Auditor-General for the Federation, Mr Anthony Ayine.

Judgement debt refers to money that a court of law orders the losing party to pay to the winning party. The parties in the case may either be an individual, a family, a company, an institution or a government

The auditor-General’s report stated that the committee saddled with the responsibility of managing the disbursement of judgement debt was dissolved in 2013.

It said that as of the time when the N10.4bn was disbursed by the Ministry of Justice in 2017, the committee had yet to be reconstituted.

The report stated that lack of control, as witnessed in the disbursement of the judgement debt, could lead to loss of public funds.

Ayine, in the report, recommended that the Solicitor-General of the Federation and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice should immediately constitute the committee as required by law.

The report read in part, “Examination of the budget of the Federal Ministry of Justice revealed that the sum of N460.95m was appropriated for payment of judgment debts for 2016 and N10bn appropriated for 2017, totalling N10.46bn.

“Further examination revealed that the committee saddled with the responsibility of managing the fund was dissolved after the 2013 financial year and is yet to be reconstituted after the 2016 and 2017 appropriations.

“However, the ministry has been disbursing this sum without a committee in place.  Lack of control could lead to loss of public funds.”

In the area of foreign travels, the audit found that N32.35m was paid to officers between March and September 2017 as estacodes and return air tickets without approvals.

It said the inability of the ministry to attach evidence of approval from the Head of Service (in the case of the civil servants) and approvals from the President (in case of a minister) was a violation of the provision of the circular HCSF/CSO/HRM/POL.1420/1 dated January 22, 2015 and HCS/PS/SPSO/244/1/26 of  July 25 2016, respectively.

Ayine in the report said the expenditure incurred could not be accepted as legitimate charge against public funds.

“Incurring expenditures without necessary approvals could lead to loss of public funds. The Solicitor-General of the Federation and permanent secretary is requested to recover the sum of N32.35m and pay to Consolidated Revenue Fund and evidence of recovery forwarded for my confirmation,” Ayine said in the report.

The report also said a total of 68 payment vouchers amounting to N71,19bn which was paid between March and August 2017 were not produced for audit in violation of section 85(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Financial Regulation 108.

“Therefore, I cannot certify the payments a legitimate charge against public funds. There may be risk of misappropriation and misapplication of funds,” he added in the report.

The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami had said that while N10bn was paid in 2017 as judgement debt, about N150bn remained unpaid.

He said the development had prompted beneficiaries to mount severe pressure on the ministry.

An expert in public sector accounting, Charles Ofomata, said the auditor-general’s office should be strengthened in a manner that would make him to sanction those that had committed financial infractions.

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