ADEOSUN CLARIFIES PARIS CLUB REFUNDS

The Minister of Finance has deemed it necessary to address the issue of Paris Club Refunds and wishes to assure the public that the Federal Government has consistently complied with all extant rules and regulations in the disbursement of the Paris Club refunds to State Governments.

The Federal Government's disbursement process is transparent and targeted at the attainment of specific economic objectives. The inability of some sub-national governments to meet salary and other obligations was considered inconsonant with the Federal Government’s economic stimulus programme. Claims with regard to over deductions had been made to the Federal Government, consistently since 2005.

The Debt Management Office (DMO) initially requested for a period of 22 months to complete the reconciliation and facilitate disbursement. However, President Muhammadu Buhari, considering the plight of salary earners and pensioners and the need to stimulate the economy, directed that the exercise be completed within 12 months.

In addition, Mr. President gave an express Anticipatory Approval for the release of up to 50% of the claim of each state, pending final reconciliation. That reconciliation is undertaken by the DMO, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) and the relevant State Governments. Accordingly, the disbursements are staggered in batches and payments are only made when the claims of each state have been reconciled with the facts at the disposal of the Federal Government.

Specifically, information was available that some states had been paid either in full or in part, under previous administrations. This necessitated a more detailed review, for the states in question.

The release of the first tranche, representing up to 25% of claims, being N522.7bn commenced in December 2016. Disbursement was subject to an agreement by State Governments that 50% of any amount received would be earmarked for the payment of salaries and pensions. In addition, each Governor gave an undertaking that excess payments would be recovered from the Federal Accounts Allocation (FAAC), if the final reconciliation found that the amount paid under the Anticipatory Approval exceeded that due.

It is standard practice in the Ministry of Finance to undertake independent monitoring of compliance with the terms and conditions of funds released. This will be conducted in due course.

To date, nine batches have been processed while some balances remain outstanding to the possible credit of a number of states. Given the foregoing, complete and final figures can only be released and published after each state and the Federal Government have reconciled and agreed on the sums due.

At the National Economic Council meeting on Thursday March 16, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari instructed the Minister of Finance and Central Bank Governor to commence the process of resolving the balance of the approved amount. The overriding consideration for any further releases will be the current and projected cash flows of the Federation as well as the outcome of the independent monitoring of the compliance with terms and conditions attached to the previous releases.

The Minister of Finance would like to reaffirm the commitment of the administration to publish all relevant information on the Paris Club refunds. 

FG TRACKS ASSETS HELD BY MDAS, CREATES ASSETS REGISTER

The Federal Government has launched an Asset Tracking and Management Project (ATMProject), through which for the first time, the Government would be able to locate, identify, assess and evaluate all its moveable and immoveable assets, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, has announced.

Similarly, a Central Asset Register would be created and domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Finance for recording the actual quantity, value, condition and location of all the capital assets belonging to the Federal Government. Under the International Public Sector reporting Standard (IPSAS) Government is expected to record both its assets and liabilities.

“For the first time a central and Unified National Database of Assets ( Asset Register) would be generated and maintained for the purpose of recording, tracking and managing the huge investments in capital assets owned by Government,” the Minister explained.

The Assets Tracking and Management Project and the creation of the Assets Register were new initiatives of the Federal Ministry of Finance designed to enhance accountability, promote transparency and deepen efficiency in line with the change agenda of the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The Asset Tracking exercise and Register will make planning and control easier and improve accountability for assets. With the increased allocation to capital expenditure to 30%, it is important that all assets are recorded and accounted for. Where disposals occur, they must be in line with the laid down procedures and must be transparent,” she pointed out.

The Asset Register would afford the Government to know and monitor in real time online information on the inventory of Government Assets. 

A Project Coordinator has been appointed by the Minister for the immediate take-off of the Asset Tracking and Management Project and the creation of the first Central Asset Register for the Federal Government.

Meanwhile a circular signed by the Minister of Finance has been dispatched to all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) requesting their Accounting Officers  to prepare an inventory of all fixed assets held as at 31st December  2016, to facilitate physical verification by the Project Team.

The circular further requested all heads of MDAs “to ensure that any assets held by current and former staff are fully accounted for.  In this regard, you may find it necessary to contact any former staff and /or political office holders to avail them the opportunity to return relevant assets in their possession.”

The circular emphasised that “all inventory records submitted will be cross-checked to capital releases and project account purchases to ensure completeness. Where assets have been sold or otherwise disposed of, they must be recorded with supporting authorization for sale and evidence of payment, where applicable.” 

The Circular drew the attention of Heads of MDAs to Chapter 26 of the Financial Regulations, with regards to disposals of assets and warned that “any asset not accessible for physical inspection and not disposed of in accordance with financial requirements will be deemed to have been illegally withheld or converted. Please record such assets so as to enable the investigative agencies to be notified.”

The records of the assets disposed of should cover the last five years and all accounting officers of the MDAs were to submit their reports not later than three weeks from the date of receipt of the circular.

It could be recalled that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) delivered 40 vehicles to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources which it recovered from some retired Directors of the Ministry; and also the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced the recovery of 40 Sports Utility Vehicles from a retired Permanent Secretary who served in  the Federal Ministry of Power.

FINANCE MINISTER BROKERS RESOLUTION TO NAICOM/PENCOM DISPUTE OVER ANNUITY ASSETS

The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, has intervened and brokered a resolution to the dispute between the National Pension Commission (PenCom) and the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) over a circular issued by PenCom directing life insurance companies to transfer their annuity asset holdings to Pension Fund Custodians (PFCs). 

At a meeting convened by the Minister between the Director-General PenCom, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu and NAICOM Chief Executive, Alhaji Mohammed A. Kari, both parties agreed to issue a joint circular by Tuesday, March 21, 2017 that would supersede all previous circulars issued by the two regulatory agencies on the annuity matter.

The dispute was fanned by a circular issued by PenCom in November last year, directing life insurers to transfer custody of their annuity assets to PFCs and inform the commission accordingly.  

The insurers were also required by the circular to suspend approving new requests for annuity pending the transfer of assets to PFCs.

The Minister noted that the Federal Ministry of Finance had received several complaints from pensioners in relation to the outstanding dispute. She drew the attention of both parties to the adverse impact the current situation is having on pensioners and reiterated that a prompt resolution of the matter is paramount.

GHOST WORKERS: FINANCE MINISTER URGES CBN TO EXTEND BVN TO MICROFINANCE BANKS

The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, has strongly solicited the cooperation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in extending the requirement for Bank Verification Number (BVN) to account holders in Microfinance Banks (MFBs), to facilitate the detection of bank accounts which might have been opened and operated in such banks for ghost workers by fraudulent syndicates.

The Minister,  who  sought  the  cooperation  of the CBN in that regard  in a correspondence addressed to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, said that the introduction of the Bank Verification Number by the CBN  has contributed immensely in improving the  integrity of the Federal Government payroll  on which  more than 50,000 ghost workers were detected and removed.

Mrs. Adeosun stated that operating bank accounts in Microfinance Banks without requirement for BVN has left a huge loophole which individuals intent on financial crimes could use to hide and launder proceeds of crime and successfully escape detection by law enforcement agencies.

"Our ongoing efforts to verify the integrity of Federal Government personnel costs and purge the system of fraud and error has made extensive use of the Bank Verification Number as a means of identifying recipients of multiple salaries, and salaries paid into accounts with names that differ to those held on our payroll records. The success of this effort has to date yielded the removal of over 50,000 payroll entries," the Minister emphasised.

Mrs.  Adeosun referred   the CBN Governor to the discovery that, prior to the deadline for obtaining the BVN, the movement of a large number of salary accounts of Federal employees from commercial banks to Microfinance Banks, was observed.

"This is a suspicious activity and we have already commenced a review of such cases to identify and investigate any cases of fraud," the Minister explained.

While noting that extending the requirement for BVN to Microfinance Banks may put a huge financial strain on the smaller Microfinance Banks, the Minister pointed out that “some MFBs, such as National Police Force Microfinance (NPF), have over 27,000 salary accounts. Our inability to perform checks on such a large number of salary earners is a key risk."

“I am therefore seeking your co-operation to enforce compliance with BVN on any MFB with over 200 active salary accounts or those above a certain size. This will support the Federal Government’s efforts at reducing leakages to create headroom for the capital projects that will support the growth of the economy," the Minister said in the correspondence.

It could be recalled that the CBN was in September 2016 reported by the media to have announced its intention to extend the requirement for the Bank Verification Number to MFBs in the country, but the exercise has yet to take off.

FG SECURES EU'S COMMITMENT ON REBUILDING OF NORTH EAST, NIGER DELTA

The European Union (EU) on Monday pledged its support for the ongoing efforts of the Federal Government to rebuild some parts of the North East and Niger Delta regions by earmarking 20 million Euros for the reconstruction of markets and warehouses in Borno and Delta States.

The EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Michael Arrion, who gave the pledge during a visit to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun in her office, said the funds would be offered to the two States in the form of budget support.

“Sometime ago, we talked about budget support but we will be able to do that only at the State level, using a special instrument meant for countries emerging from war, and we can look at States in the North East and look at specific projects in terms of financial support to their budgets,” he said.

However, Mrs. Adeosun said all the financial analysis needed to facilitate support to the States had been put in place, pointing out that the Fiscal Sustainability Plan required a  21-point fiscal reform programme that enhanced transparency, accountability and efficiency.

According to the Minister, the funding arrangement would help in healing the wounds caused by insurgent activities in the North East. She said it would also give hope to the Niger Delta people who have been impacted by  pipeline bombings and the attendant environmental problems in the area.

The EU Ambassador said the quest to invest in Africa was largely informed by the need to discourage migration to Europe, pointing out that several thousands of Nigerian citizens have continued to migrate to Europe.

He said, “We have specific objective for creating this instrument and it is to address the root cause of migration. We are presenting this initiative within the framework of the global response to irregular migration.

Today we have a few thousand Nigerians in Europe, and we feel we have the responsibility of attracting them to come back to Nigeria.

“By investing in Africa, we will be creating jobs. We will be mixing grants with loans. We believe the grants will have a leveraged effect,” He disclosed that the EU, has in the last two years invested over 300 Billion Euros in Africa.