Financial matters are so important that they receive constitutional recognition. To avoid abuse, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, provides a series of checks and balances over public finance by sharing financial responsibilities among the Executive, the legislature and the Office of the Auditor-General. The research sought to evaluate the effectiveness of the checks and balances on public finance in Plateau State. The research also set out to recommend measures that will enhance the discharge of financial accountability. In this research, four hypotheses were formulated and tested. The primary data was obtained through the administration of questionnaires, interviews and actual observation. This was supplemented with secondary data. The technique of simple random sampling was used in the questionnaire administration. The population of the study was 386 out of which a sample of 160 was studied. The chi-square (χ2) test statistics was used to test the four hypotheses. Percentage analysis was used to investigate issues considered relevant to this research but were not covered by the hypotheses. The findings of this research indicate that the public budget is not a significant instrument of legislative control over public finance in Plateau State; the reliance of Auditor-General on the financial statements prepared by the Executive arm of government does not significantly influence his performance; the quality of legislative financial oversight has a significant effect on the State Auditor-General and qualification of State Treasury staff is independent of the number of financial records kept by them. The research shows that budgetary non-compliance is quite common. Infringements on financial rules and regulations are also common. The Public Accounts
Committee of the State Legislature never met to consider the report of the Auditor-General between 1999 and 2003. The implications of these findings are that the legislature is unable to discharge its Constitutional responsibility using the public budget; the weakness of the legislature adversely affects the Auditor-General and poor financial record keeping is not solely attributed to the qualification of those who maintain them. The study recommends a balanced redistribution of financial powers among the Executive, the Legislature and the Auditor-General to promote the discharge of financial accountability in Plateau State.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Nigeria, a federation of thirty-six States and Seven Hundred and seventy-four local governments, was a colony of Britain but became an independent State in 1960. It has a population of nearly one hundred and twenty million people and the dominant source of income is oil (Oladosu and Oyelakin 2003:1).
Nigeria has been divided into six geo-political zones – South-South, South-West, South- East, North- East, North -West and North- Central. Plateau State falls within the geo-political zone of North-Central. The State was first created as Benue-Plateau in 1967. It later became Plateau State with the creation of Benue State in 1976. Nassarawa State was also created out of Plateau State in 1996.
The Nigerian public sector consists of the governments at the Federal, States, Federal Capital Territory, Local Governments and all government parastatals. The public sector plays an important role in economic development. It provides services which the private sector may not be willing or able to provide. Chan (1988:15) argues that
the public sector provides many essential services to society. It plays an essentially compensatory function; that is, it performs those functions that the market economy does not do efficiently or lacks the incentive to do at all.
Musgrave and Musgrave (1976) classify these functions as
- Resource Allocation – the provision of public goods and services.
- Income Distribution – the adjustment of the distribution of wealth or income in the society to conform to some principle of fairness.
- Stabilization – the use of fiscal policies to achieve high employment, price stability and economic growth.
In a Federal system like Nigeria, the different tiers of government perform these functions in varying degrees. Governments at all levels desire to deliver good governance to all their citizens. This is because “good governance is central to creating and sustaining an enabling environment for development” (Asselin, 1995:3). A strong link exists between economic development and good governance, and between good governance and fiscal transparency.
The importance of good financial management in achieving the objectives of government has not lost its relevance. Because of this, the financial accountability of most countries is enshrined in the Constitution to facilitate the discharge of financial accountability. Oshisami and Dean (1984:36) remark that
in recognition of the importance of finance as a basis for political power, and the opportunities which absolute control offers for its abuse, power over finance is divided, the division being formally recognized Constitutionally in virtually all countries .
Global practice shows that power over finance is shared between the Executive and the legislature and in some cases with an independent body – the Supreme Audit Institution. Has this Constitutional sharing of power over finance achieved the desired result?
In view of the enormous responsibilities placed on government for the welfare of its citizens, the public sector needs a lot of resources. In pursuit of this, the government needs to put up a framework for the management and control of the public purse. The formalities established in relation to accounting and financial control support the process of governance
1.1.1 Financial Control
The term ‘control’ has long been recognised as one of the principles of management. Control exists in most human endeavours. Most authorities agree on what constitutes control. Lucey (1996:137) states that control is concerned ‘with the efficient use of resources to achieve a previously determined objective, or set of objectives, contained within a plan’. Similarly, Koontz, Donnel and Wiehrick (1980:81) define control as the measurement and correcting of activities of subordinates to assure that events conform to plans. Ekwonu (1996:35) states that control ‘is the measurement of the performance of the activities of subordinates in order to make sure that objectives and plans devised to attain them are being accomplished’. All these definitions point to the fact that control exists to ensure that organizational objectives are met through measurement of performance. The control process according to (Koontz et al 1980:722) involves three steps:
- Establishing standards
- Measuring performance against these standards and
- Correcting deviations from standards and plans
Finance occupies a special place in the conduct of government business. Public finance has been defined by Buhari (1993:66) as ‘a branch of economics concerned with the finance and economic activities of the public sector’.
From these definitions, we can state that public finance not just deal with the ways government raises money, but also the manner such money is expended with the aim of achieving economic growth.
In Nigeria, the Federal government raises money through the following major
sources: Petroleum profit tax, Mining, Company income tax, Import duties, Export
duties, Excise duties, Interest and repayment of loans granted by the government
Others include; Education tax, Value added tax, Pay-as-you-earn, Fees and
charges, Royalties, Rent of government property, Grants, aids and loans
The money raised through the above sources is expended on the following
items: Administration, Infrastructural services, Productive services, Defense, Interest
on internal and external loans, and Diplomatic missions (Buhari, 1993:168)
In connection with government finance, we can identify two basic groups of
control- administrative and financial control; the former referring to those techniques
which have indirect bearing upon expenditure operation while the latter denote
techniques of control relating to fiscal control. The emphasis of this study is on
Financial control is a very important type of control in the management of
government finance. Oshisami (1992:29) defines it
as the process which ensures that financial resources are obtained at cost considered to be economical and utilized efficiently and effectively for the attainment of established objectives.
A comprehensive definition of financial or fiscal control is given by Ekwonu
the sum total of the work, which guides, directs and interprets the budget cycle. It covers the activities of the Executive branch, involving finance and the ministries… the audit department and the legislature…
In a democratic era, financial control may operate internally and externally.
Within the Executive arm of government control by the finance ministry is internal while audit by the Auditor-General and legislative oversight constitute external control.
1.1.2 Institutions of Financial Control in the Public Sector
There are formal and informal institutions of financial control over public revenue and expenditure. The formal institutions of financial control include the Executive arm of government, Legislature and Office of the Auditor-General or Supreme Audit Institution. The informal institutions of financial control include; the media, the organised civil society and donor agencies.
With respect to the formal institutions of financial control, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, establishes a cycle of financial accountability for public funds. The cycle provides that:
- Legislature authorizes expenditure
- The Executive controls the collection and issue of funds. In addition, it prepares the accounts.
- The prepared accounts are audited by the Auditor-General and
- The Auditor-General submits the results of his audit to the Legislature through its Public Accounts Committee (PAC). PAC acts on the report by
inviting accounting officers to appear before it where need be.