Secrecy weighs on MDAs’ income and expenditure as open treasury portal is closed for days
DDetails of revenues and expenditures of federal government ministries, departments and agencies have been shrouded in secrecy following the closure of the Treasury Open Portal.
The portal aims to provide comprehensive data from all MDAs on budget execution, financial records as well as transactions exceeding certain thresholds.
Portal visits – http://opentreasury.gov.ng – Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday by Daily Trust indicated that “the site is not accessible”.
At the time of writing, no statement has been released by the government explaining why the portal has remained inactive.
The Nigerian government launched the portal in December 2019 as part of the drive to ensure transparency in public spending.
President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the MDAs to publish daily treasury summary statements of financial inflows and outflows.
The President maintained that daily cash statements from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) would give the breakdown of all agencies responsible for each payment above N5 million.
In addition, the AGF and all MDAs are expected to publish monthly reports on budget execution, including their functions and the economic activities they perform in the seven days preceding the end of the month.
During the inauguration of the portal, the former Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Mr. Waziri Adio, in a series of tweets via his Twitter account @Waziriadio, stressed that all MDAs have a mandate to publish, daily, reports on payments in excess of 5 million naira, monthly budget performance and other miscellaneous official financial transactions.
Adio had tweeted: “With the launch of the Treasury Portal opened today (9th December 2019) by President Muhammadu Buhari, all MDAs must publish the following: daily reports on payments of 5 million Naira; monthly budget performance; quarterly financial statements; and annual financial statements prepared in accordance with IPSAS.
“All reports must be posted on time on this portal: http://opentreasury.gov.ng. The portal will be open and accessible to everyone.
Calls to the line from the director of information, press and public relations at the office of the Federation’s accountant general, Henshaw Ogubike, rang out on Tuesday.
He then sent an SMS to our correspondent, asking that a message be sent to him. However, at the time of filing this report, Ogubike had yet to respond to an inquiry into why the portal had been inaccessible for days.
In June 2020, a civic advocacy group, BudgIT, identified discrepancies in the open cash portal.
The group’s co-founder, Seun Onigbinde, identified some flaws in the financial records published on the site and the need to improve the system.
Damilola Ogundipe, Head of Communications at BudgIT, said in a statement that while the platform is innovative and commendable, there is still a long way to go for it to fully achieve its goal of enabling public transparency and accountability.
BudgIT in its report titled “OpenTreasury.gov.ng: Nigeria’s Spending Platform: Review, Gaps & Recommendations” analyzed data uploaded to the portal from September 2018 to May 2020.
The group said it analyzed more than 100,000 payment entries from more than 600 separate spreadsheets.
Between January and July 2019, BudgiT said it discovered that large sums were paid into personal accounts; including several records with vague descriptions.
He said: “Over 2,900 payments to individuals have been recorded with a total value of N51 billion. Some examples include 2.04 billion naira, 2.04 billion naira and 1 billion naira paid into personal accounts on June 21, 2019 without any payment description, as well as another payment of 68 million naira for “Ogunsuyi ” and 15.8 million naira for “international”. on other dates.
“During the same year 2019, we also discovered payment records without descriptions or recipient information. At least 5,000 payment records worth N278 billion were undescribed and 275 payment records worth N43 billion were without a payee name.
“These discreet payments cannot be assessed or traced by citizens and interested parties, thus defeating the platform’s goal of fostering transparency.”
Shutdown may be an indicator of corruption – SERAP
Speaking on the closure, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said that while the problem cannot be directly interpreted as corruption in the system, “it may be an indicator of the enabler corruption”.
SERAP Deputy Director Kola Oluwadare in an interview with Daily Trustsaid the government should have released a statement, explaining why the portal was down and what steps were taken to fix the problem.
He said: “Naturally, if such a transparency and accountability mechanism has been down for a few days and we have no information from the government as to why (why it is inaccessible) and the steps taken to resolve it, that then means that there is a critical problem in our accountability process.
“It also means that since that Saturday when it was found to be down, Nigerians have been in the dark and have been unable to exercise their right to freedom of information. And that kind of puts a point of questioning the government’s commitment to transparency given the commitment that the Nigerian government has made under the Open Government Partnership which it joined in 2016.”