The Public was surprised when 46 bills were passed by the Senate at the end of the 7th Assembly in early June. Some found it difficult to believe but at the end, it was found to be true. Various individuals and organizations have told us different contents and comments on the bills depending on the one they are interested in without seeing the authentic or original one passed. We restrained ourselves from doing same until we got the original copy of the Audit Bill 2015 in which we are interested in among the bills being public officers and former staff of the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation.
The Bill is full of ambiguities, contradictions with Treasury Circulars and 1999 Constitution, Public Service Rules, placing emphasis on paper qualification at the expense of experience, promoting certain interest at the expense of national interest, killing productivity and motivation of staff etc.
A careful study of the Bill reveals the following: Section 1(3) of the Bill provides that the” the Office shall be headed by the Auditor-General for the Federation (hereinafter referred to as “ the Auditor-General”) who shall be of same rank in public service with the Head of Service (HOS) of the Federation” Reason for the inclusion of this in the Bill is not clear because there are many statutory officers such as Chief Justice and Justices of Supreme Courts, etc and Chief Executives of parastatals like Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Executive Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) etc that are on the same level with the HOS despite the fact that the HOS is number one public servant and they are even enjoying more benefits by virtue of their offices and positions than the HOS but this provision is not stated in their appointment letters and enabling Acts of such parastatals.
As regards to the qualifications for the position of the Auditor General for the Federation, section 2(1a) says a person shall not be appointed as Auditor -General unless that person is a qualified accountant with not less than 15yrs cognate professional experience when the circular that requires public servants to have professional qualification is not up to 10yrs. It appears that this is an attempt to disqualify a lot of staff in the office and public officers in general?
Why making Sec 2 (1)a stated above 15yrs generally for the insiders of the Office, those in public and private sectors without considering the experience the insiders have got over the years considering the fact that it would appear impossible or difficult for a Director with professional qualifications no matter the number of years and experience in public sector to become an Executive Director talk less of Managing Director of a Bank, Insurance, Telecomm or any other company in private sector without any experience in that sector unless he owns the company. We are not saying that such Directors within the Office should not be professionally qualified but their years of professional qualification should be reduced considering their experience on the work.
The 15yrs. professional qualification aspect of the Bill is likely to reduce the morale and productivity of an experienced, hardworking Director with less than 15yrs professional qualification. It will not be in the interest of the country for somebody in the private sector without any public sector experience to become the Chief Executive of such an important Office. At the same time section 2(2) provides that where the applicant for the position of the Auditor General is from the public service, he shall have at least four years (4yrs) to retirement while section 2(3) provides that “where the applicant is not from public sector, he shall not be less than 45yrs and not more than 50yrs old at the date of appointment”.
This means that such a person from outside public sector will spend between 10 and 15yrs in office before he reaches retirement age of the present 60yrs. This provision is likely to affect the morale and productivity of Management staff particularly the Directors in the Office if they are aware that the Chief Executive will spend between 10yrs and 15yrs in office before he/ she retires. Meanwhile, section 2(4) also provides that “ the Deputy Auditor General to be appointed from the serving Directors in the Office who must meet the criteria in subsections (1) to (4) of this section”. Why setting the same criteria for the posts of Auditor General and Deputy Auditor General?
It can be concluded from the above that the positions for Deputy Auditors General are basically for the insiders who must be Directors within the Office which consequently means that an outsider whether from public service or private can only become the Auditor –General i.e. the Chief Executive and consequently the Chairman of the Commission.
Though, there is nothing wrong if a qualified outsider becomes the Chief Executive but why setting a rule which will be difficult to meet by majority of the staff of the Office and those in public sector as a whole? Sec.2(3) gives an advantage to those in private over their public sector counterparts to be Auditor-General in the sense that how many officers in the Office, Civil Service or Public Sector as a whole can have at least four yrs. (4yrs.) left in service to meet the requirements in sec. 2(2) and 2(4) knowing that it would take a graduate that started from GL8 that does not fail any promotion interview (which in public sector is subject to vacancy) no matter how hard working, committed and brilliant he may be nothing less than 26yrs to become a Director in Civil or Public Service for him to qualify for the position of Deputy Auditor General in line with sec 2(4) or have at least 4yrs left in service in order to meet the requirement in sec 2(2) above unless the officer has got either ANAN or ICAN Certificate to start from GL 09 or 10 respectively.
Section 3 states the procedures for the appointment of the Auditor- General but no provision for the body to carry out the procedures compare to Section 86(1) of the present Constitution that says “that the Auditor General for the Federation shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Federal Civil Service Commission subject to confirmation by the Senate “ since the Office is presently part of the Civil Service unless this aspect of the Constitution has been amended. Will it be done by the Presidency, Audit Service Commission by itself which is not done in any other autonomous parastatals like NNPC, FIRS, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), CBN, etc or still by Federal Civil Service Commission knowing fully that the Commission would no longer be part of Civil Service when the Bill is assented to? According to sec 5 of the Bill “ the Auditor- General shall be appointed to serve for four years and may be reappointed to serve for another four years and no more.”
The Auditor General for the Federation is expected to be independent of any arm of Government, if his/her tenure is subject to renewal, the independence may be compromised. This provision is a contradiction to sec. 87(2) of the 1999 Constitution that provides that the Auditor –General shall not be removed from office before such a retiring age as may be prescribed by law, save in accordance with the provisions of this section”. The implication of sec.5 is that if any person within public sector from 57yrs. and above is appointed as Auditor-General for the first four years, he/she shall be more than the compulsory 60yrs while still in service.
More so, “ A person holding office as the Auditor-General shall hold office in the public service of the Federation until he attains the age of 65yrs or he has served in the public service of the Federation for 35yrs depending on which comes first” in line with sec 6 of the Bill and sec. 40 (1) says “ Notwithstanding the provision of any Act, a staff of the Office of the Auditor General other than the Audit Commission shall retire from service when he attains the age of 65years or has served for 35 years in public service of the Federation depending on which comes first”. These are clear departures from Public Service Rules which make retirement age of public servants presently to be 60yrs or 35yrs which one comes first when Federal Government is considering reducing the retirement age to 55yrs or 30yrs in service to solve the problem of unemployment though we appreciate the fact that those in Judiciary, Research Institutes and Universities generally enjoy between 65yrs and 70yrs.
-Joseph Onoja and Abdullah Fagbemi