By Archibong Jeremiah
The eighteen Local Governments in Cross River State have been indicted for unprofessional accounts and record keeping.
They are Bakassi, Akpabuyo, Calabar South, Calabar Municipality, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Biase, Yakurr, Abi, Obubra, Ikom, Ogoja, Etung, Boki, Yala, Bekwarra, Obudu, and Obanliku.
The State Auditor-General for Local Government, Mrs. Franka Inok in her annual report of the Councils for 2018, 2019, and 2020 indicted them on an 11-count charge.
Describing how Councils keep accounts and records she said it “still leaves a lot to be desired.” The eighteen Local Government Councils were without Chairmen and vices from 2015-2020.
The never-changing issues observed by the audit for 2018, 2019, and 2020 are main cash books and other accounting books were not properly prepared, preparation was not done on time, absence of Fixed Assets Register, records of Liabilities and Investments Registers, absence of Bank Reconciliation Statements and Cheques Register, absence of Vote Books and Expenditure Controls and failure of Internal Audit to check and sign Payment Vouchers.
Others are the absence of Minutes of Management Meetings and Resolutions regarding projects, contracts, and other major financial decisions, lack of proper Treasury Supervision and control by the Directors of Finance, insufficiently vouched for expenditures, poorly prepared and late submission of Financial Statements, missing payment vouchers and failure to capture all financial transactions for the year (2018-2020).
The State Auditor-General for Local Government made the recommendation consistently for three years they were not implemented.
After the stunning findings, she recommended that “Proper interviews should be conducted before Directors of Finance and other key Accounting Officers are appointed in Councils to ensure adequately skilled manpower handle the critical job of maintaining and accounting for public expenditure in the Local Government.
“The audit is hereby recommending a professional qualification within 3 years for anyone appointed to or seeking appointment as a Director of Finance. Councils should begin to explore ways of computerizing certain aspects of accounting for speed, completeness, and accuracy of record keeping.
“Council Chairmen must be alive to their responsibilities as Chief Accounting Officers of their Local Governments by cooperating with and supervising accounts and records by demanding monthly reports from their Finance Departments.”
Residents Score Local Governments Low
A Local Government Performance Survey report released last month by YMonitor assessed the delivery of public goods and effective services by local governments in the State and revealed that residents are disgruntled with the State’s local government administrations.
YMonitor scored the administrators low in social, economic, and political functionalities in the last three years.
According to the survey report, many residents of Cross River were unaware of the activities of their local government administrators in the last three years and considered their local governments to be distant from the people at the grassroots.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) test showed that many of the 1,225 respondents, who are mostly educated young adults between 24-48 years, were dissatisfied with the state of affairs in their communities and are unlikely to recommend their Local Government Chairmen for higher public offices.
The survey report further revealed that many residents at the grassroots do not know the name of any public officials elected in their local government in the last three years despite being registered voters.
Education showed to be a key factor in residents’ likelihood to vote in the coming general elections, as residents of Cross River with a secondary and above level of education exhibit a higher likelihood of voting in the forthcoming elections.
The report recommended bringing governance closer to the grassroots, sensitization citizens on the significance of local government and approaches to holding the local administrators accountable, as well as provision of corruption-checking systems, among others.
The full report of Local Government Performance in Cross River can be gotten via LG Performance Survey | Cross River – YMonitor.
Experts Raise Alarm
Mr. Joseph Bassey, an ICAN member told CrossRiverWatch that from the look of things the books were deliberately not properly kept.
He said, “Looking at this, it’s a deliberate act. The Local Government does not keep its accounts, and the Chief Accounting Officer which is the Chairmen should be held liable, adding that “It shows they don’t have qualified personnel at the local government level to handle those items or they choose to deliberately ignore them.”
He explained the functions of the missing records ascertaining that they would have made transparency and accountability easier.
He said, “The cash book shows the movement of cash (inflow and outflow). The fixed asset register shows the asset owned by the local government so they can be monitored.
“The bank reconciliation statement shows the discrepancies that exist bet the cash book and the bank. Vote books show authorization of expenditures. Minute of meeting regarding capex and opex (capex is known as capital expenditure, whereas opex is the operational expenditure) where it was agreed that expenditures should be made.”
He advised that there should be a Treasury Officer that should be responsible for the movement of cash and give advice. And that when expenditures are made there should be a voucher indicating such.
“So it’s deliberate sabotage of the system and each local govt chairman should be held liable,” he reiterated.
On how the poor accounts and record keeping affects the people at the grassroots he said, “You can’t be accountable to the people who elected you and a looted treasury only makes growth stagnant since projects are not funded in reality, not in the books.”
Mr. Richard Inoyo, Principal Consultant of Carthinium, a finance and general services firm, said the recommendations if not followed are exposing the State to unnecessary danger.
His words: “Those recommendations are statutory that all MDA must uphold. I am of the view that this government has shown that there is a total disregard for tradition. that is why you can see the governor come up with a budget of over 1 trillion naira in a State where the overall revenue quality is below 20 billion naira.
“I’m not surprised, but if these recommendations were taken it allows the State to operate well. As it is right now it exposes the State to a whole lot of issues because what it means practically is there are no records for transactions.”
He further stated that “It behooves the Accountant-General of the State to implement these financial fiscal policies, the Auditor-General can only recommend but it is up to the Accountant-General to enforce these recommendations.”
An FOI enquiring why the recommendations of the State Auditor-General for Local Government were not implemented for three years was sent to the office of the Cross River State Accountant-General through the International Center for Investigative Reporting FOI help desk but no reply has been received.
This report was published with support from YMonitor, an initiative of The Future Project (TFP).
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