By Kemi Yesufu
With economists warning that Nigeria is sliding into a debt crisis, even as the Federal Government struggles with revenue generation as well as funding the national budget, concerned stakeholders on Wednesday in Abuja called on the National Assembly to see to the amendment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
These stakeholders while dissecting two reports on mainstreaming fiscal responsibility in Nigeria’s petroleum sector and revenue remittance compliance by Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) under the Growth Initiatives for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) project called on the lawmakers to pass the amended Fiscal Responsibility Bill before the end of 9th Assembly in order to give the Fiscal Responsibility Commission the power to sanction MDAs that fail to remit generated revenue as required by law.
Speaking at the presentation of the reports titled, ‘Where is the money, A Revenue Remittance Compliance Index of Federal Government Ministries, Department and Agencies Vol 1’ and ‘Mainstreaming Fiscal Responsibility in Nigeria’s Petroleum Sector’ to the media, Chairman of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, Barr. Victor Muruako stressed the importance of the amendment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act to stemming corruption, significantly increasing government revenue and providing a provision for a debt ceiling.
The GIFT Nigeria Project is supported by the USAID and implemented by Order Paper Initiative, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, HipCity Innovation, CLICE Foundation and the Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors.
Muruako warned that leaving the amendment of the act which will better empower his agency to carry out its functions to the next assembly would lead to more losses for the government, even as more money will be lost in system already bedeviled by high level corruption.
He said: “The aspect of the (Fiscal Responsibility) Act which requires amendment is that of implementation. The Act provided for over fifty offences without provision for any sanction. We keep writing MDAs, we keep engaging, we keep calling for meetings but conversely when there is no responsive answer, there is nothing to fall back on.
“We have tried to engage parliament, and the relevant government authorities on the need to strengthen the act, we have taken the matter to different Civil Society Groups, in the 7th Assembly, the 8th Assembly, and now the 9th Assembly we’ve pushed to have the act amended. At the public hearing on the Act in the Senate which was held on 2nd of July, I can tell you that we had ninety percent approval from the various submission for the amendment of the act. But we are yet to move from that point and this has been the bane in the push for the amendment of the Act.
Speaking on behalf of the CSOs involved in the research, Executive Director, Order Paper Initiative, Oke Epia said the reports will act as the foundation for advocacy of the coalition on mainstreaming transparency in Nigeria’s public sector most especially the oil industry.
He expressed hope that the reports will help galvanise the public into getting involved with the monitoring of government projects in their localities as timely and transparent remittance of revenue by MDAs is critical to funding projects and other government interventions.
Epia challenged candidates contesting for the presidency, governorship, the federal and state legislature to provide the voters with concrete plans and testable policy documents with particular reference to curbing corruption, increasing government revenue, the implementation of important laws like the Petroleum Industry Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“We are focusing on the mainstay of the economy, the petroleum sector, revenues that come from the sector, how is the revenue generated and is it remitted to the government coffers appropriately and sufficiently. If revenues are not remitted, we are asking why and if the revenue is remitted, we are asking what is being done with the money? So this is the context that motivated the design of GIFT Project “, he stated.