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Cablegate: Nigeria: Auditor General Report Hits the Media;

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 000257

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: AUDITOR GENERAL REPORT HITS THE MEDIA;
IMPACT ON CORRUPTION LESS CLEAR

REF: 2002 ABUJA 1606


1. (SBU) Summary. The Auditor General of the Federation
(AGF), akin to an Inspector General in the USG, has recently
released the Audit Report for Calendar Year 2001 (Part One).
Citing malfeasance in all tiers of government, the report has
gained notoriety in the media and spawned calls from the
President and civil society for greater transparency in
government. The report itself is an undigested listing of
irregularities found by the AGF's 700 professional auditors
including such examples as:
- a) $45,000 in unaccounted funds budgeted by the Federal
Capital Territory to buy gifts for a canceled State visit by
Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi; and
- b) U.S. $20,000 given to Ministry of Police Affairs
police officials without proper authorization or accounting.
Misappropriations and financial irregularities identified by
the Auditor were not followed up in the past for various
reasons, chiefly lack of political will. Acting Auditor
General of the Federation Azie believes this report,s fate
will be different. However, there will certainly be
resistance to the report's recommendations and many in
government are not pleased by the release of the report
before elections. Already, Information Minister Jerry Gana
publicly dismissed the audit as "rash" and calculated to
embarrass the GON. End Summary.


Background
----------


2. (U) On January 13, newspapers reported that the Auditor
General had forwarded to the National Assembly his report
covering government accounts for calendar year 2001. The
audit reportedly charged the executive, legislature, and the
judiciary with numerous fiscal and procedural improprieties.


3. (SBU) Meeting with EconOff on January 21, Acting Auditor
General V.S.C. Azie said the report was provided to the
National Assembly pursuant to the constitution. He was
unsure whether he was authorized to release the report to the
public or to foreign diplomats. Refusing to provide a copy,
Azie however allowed EconOff to view a copy of the report
when asked, and promised to make it available as soon as the
"media heat" cooled off.


4. (U) To back up his claim that the Auditor General's office
is committed to transparency, Azie showed EconOff mock-ups of
the website he hopes to launch in February. There, he
explained, the report would be made available to the general
public. More than 270 pages long, the report contains no
executive summary and cites individual irregularities by
Ministry or agency. The report is a difficult read, the
editing is poor and narrative consistency is lacking. More
importantly, there was little effort made to clearly define
the elements of each offence reported.


5. (U) The Acting Auditor General explained that Part Two of
the Report would contain more analysis and interpretation.
However, completion of that section would require more
information from the Accountant General of the Federation.
He speculated this might take two or three years. Rather
than wait for the second part, as had been the custom, he
believed it would be better to publish the raw information as
soon as possible. He forwarded that section of the report to
the National Assembly in hopes that his action would lead to
the public dissemination of the raw audit.


6. (U) Azie acknowledged his office has no prosecutorial
powers and only makes recommendations to the National
Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which has to pursue
the individual cases. When asked if this would be effective
given the erratic performance of the National Assembly, Azie
was upbeat. He claimed some cases were pursued by the House
PAC from the 1997 Audit (the last available) and that the
legislators had identified agencies and individuals who
indeed made restitution.


7. (U) With fresh information from the 2001 audit, Azie
believes the House PAC could resolve many cases. He
explained that many times individuals and Ministries refused
to even answer queries from the auditors. The PAC had the
power to subpoena individuals and, if necessary, refer them
for criminal prosecution, though this step has never been
taken. In contrast to the House, the Senate Public Accounts
Committee was moribund and had not taken any action, Azie
noted.


8. (U) Azie's best case scenario saw his office coordinating
with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related
Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Budget Price Monitoring
and Investigation Unit (BMPI) in the President,s office
(reftel), to reduce corruption by making the contract
tendering processes for capital projects more transparent.
This could not happen overnight, but with continued increases
in resources and support from the top, it would eventually
make a difference and begin to change behavior in government.


Constraints on the Auditor's Office
-----------------------------------


9. (U) Azie decried the lack of protection for auditors and
whistleblowers who vigorously pursue corruption. While
auditors work for him, their offices are often located in the
Ministries and agencies they investigate. An aggressive
auditor could wind up in a "living hell" if he upsets too
many people, and there is little the Auditor General's Office
can do to protect or even transfer them to other government
institutions.


10. (U) Azie also complained that his office is underfunded,
making it difficult to carry out some of its functions.
Though there is a new training program from the World Bank,
Azie noted the Auditor General's office had received very
little training in the last 15 years despite the GON policy
of setting aside ten percent of the annual personnel costs
for training. However, Azie advises his staff to personally
train themselves, including extension and on-line courses,
since the government is not ready to make funds available.


FEDERAL EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING
---------------------------------


11. (U) Perhaps in response to extensive and sensational
press coverage of the report, the audit was discussed at the
weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of January 29.
President Obasanjo directed all Ministries to immediately
respond to the Public Accounts Committee of the National
Assembly with explanations of the anomalies identified in the
document.


12. (U) However, the Executive seemed to be of two minds
regarding the report. That same afternoon, Information
Minister Gana briefed the media that the report was intended
to embarrass the Federal Government. He dismissed the report
as an unprofessional audit that levied charges without regard
for due process and accuracy.


13. (U) Gana further claimed that the Auditor General did not
give the Ministries the opportunity to provide detailed
explanations before the report was submitted to the National
Assembly. He challenged Azie's professional competence
saying "it would appear that the Auditor General was in some
kind of haste to rush out the report because there are three
phases which he never followed."


Comment
-------


14. (SBU) Comment: While the recent report generated much
discussion among the general public, Azie's quest to make a
positive impact from his revelations will be an uphill
struggle. Things are rarely straightforward in Nigeria and
this maxim applies doubly to the topics of corruption and
malfeasance during an election year. No doubt, many National
Assembly Members probably were happy to receive the report,
it was the glee of a wrongdoer who has caught his accuser in
a similar transgression. National Assembly members believe
the Presidency has used the ICPC to target the Assembly
leadership and other members the Presidency opposes; now,
they probably are looking at Azie's report as an instrument
to blunt the President,s actions against them. Because the
report provides information about executive branch
corruption, the Assembly will likely use it to deter vigorous
pursuit of House members.


15. (SBU) Instead of advancing the battle against
corruption, the most likely short-term effect of the report
will be relative inaction based on a sort of executive and
legislative branch mutually assured political embarrassment
through public disclosure of corrupt practices.


16. (SBU) There is also the possibility that the President
may signal to the House PAC that some of his Ministers are
more expendable than others. This way he could use the report
to provide the political cover to rid himself of deadwood
Ministers. If some of his Ministers were allowed to walk the
plank, this could actually enhance Obasanjo,s reputation for
fighting corruption. Moreover, albeit done for less than
noble reasons, this would still constitute genuine progress
in the fight against corruption. End Comment.
JETER

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