I left Jonathan’s cabinet because of resource mismanagement – Ex-finance minister, Remi Babalola

Remi BabalolaFormer Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola, has recalled drawing the attention of the nation to the parlous state of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) accounts five years ago, adding that many sympathisers feared for his life as it amounted to “stepping on a snake”.

He affirmed, “I was unperturbed and unruffled but ready and willing to take a walk as a statement of intent that if they wanted to continue in that decadence of resource mismanagement, I was not going to be a part of it.”

He explained that the Nigerian dream was about prosperity, dignity and hope for all, and not poverty, violence, corruption and destructive leadership which bankrupted the nation.

Babalola made the statement on Tuesday in Abuja during a paper presentation titled “Achieving the Nigeria of Our Dream: The Responsibility of Professional Accountants” at the opening of the 45th Annual Accountants Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).

Babalola resigned from former President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet on September 16, 2010 in the wake of the controversy generated by his claim that NNPC was broke

Jonathan claimed the resignation was on health grounds and wished Babalola well as well as quick recovery from his ailments and a speedy recovery to normal active life. Journalists were even advised to remove any speculations about any other cause of his action.

The former minister, who is the Chairman/Chief Strategist of Alternative Capital Partners Limited (ACAP), in his paper on Tuesday recommended public asset declaration for every principal officer in the executive arm of government from the president to the ministers, permanent secretaries, director-generals, and heads of parastatals and agencies.

The public asset declaration, according to him, has become necessary to curb the alarming rate of corruption in the country.

He also urged the Federal Government to ensure that the state-owned oil corporation, NNPC, publishes its audited accounts and quarterly accounts like all listed companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Babalola attributed the alarming rate of corruption in the system to the culture of impunity that had existed in the country.

He therefore advised that all principal officers of the government, including the ministers, permanent secretaries, director-generals and heads of government must declare their assets publicly before and after leaving office.

He said, “Our culture of impunity is the bane of the entrenched corruption in our society. The value destruction and corruption undermine any economic development or social change we may aspire for our nation.

“Mismanagement and misallocation of resources, coupled with an unprecedented level of corruption have been at their highest in the history of our nation in the last 6 years.

“Performance or success in public space was measured by the conversion rate of public funds into private accounts. It looks as if democracy has been substituted with kleptocracy.”

Babalola, who chaired the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) between 2007 and 2010, urged the new Administration to confront the endemic corruption whole-heartedly in order to resolve the country’s mal-functionality.

He consequently recommended the expansion of the whistle blowing and fraud protocol by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to include the payment of 10 percent of the forfeited undeclared assets to whistle blowers/informants if successfully prosecuted.

He called on the National Assembly, judiciary, media, labour unions, civil societies organisations, student unions and professional groups to join in the new administration’s anti corruption war.

The former minister decried the absence of transparency in the oil sector and the NNPC, regretting that the corporation’s core competence had been reduced to importing refined products and paying subsidies to bogus companies.

He wondered why it was difficult for the NNPC to compete with the likes of PETROBRAS of Brazil and PETRONAS of Malaysia.

“It is counter intuitive that we deliberately ensure that receipts and proceeds into the nation’s treasury are not accounted for. Such has been our contempt for process transparency that an incumbent governor of an operationally and legally independent central bank, who publicly alerted the nation, was forced out of a fixed tenure.

“Of course given its systemic importance to the economy, there is no justification for the state-owned oil sector monopoly (the NNPC) not to publicly publish its audited accounts and even quarterly accounts like all listed companies on the stock exchange,” said Babalola, who is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.

On the Federal Government’s bailout programmes for states, the former minister advised that it should be done in line with Section 41 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

“As good a gesture as the bailout is, it may lead to moral hazard as the states continue with financial recklessness leading to financial insolvency. Why are we borrowing to pay salaries in stark violation of Section 41 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act?” he queried.

He noted, “Rescuing the states is a necessary gesture but how and on what terms is ‘business as usual’. Each state should have been treated as an entity with peculiar conditionalities. A body like ICAN and other professional bodies should have been brought in as independent platform to assess and recommend terms and conditions for each state just like the situation in Greece.”

Babalola called for a higher level of advocacy in financial prudence and disclosure by professional accountants.

He charged professional accountants to display discipline, knowledge, ethics and integrity at all times.

“As professionals, we should be able to establish causal relationships in observed phenomena. The highlighted causes of the financial crisis and corporate governance scandals cannot but be traced directly or indirectly to professional accountants and financial reporting.

“These crises may have possibly been prevented if proper disclosures and full understanding of the underlying transactions were available to the investors, regulators and other stakeholders. This lapse brings to the fore the importance and urgency of the goal of delivering necessary information to investors/stakeholders for appropriate decision-making,” Babalola asserted.