The Senate yesterday asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry to properly account for N848 million generated as visa fees at the Nigerian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, from 2013 to 2015.
Its committee on Public Accounts headed by Senator Matthew Urhoghide also directed the ministry’s permanent secretary to explain the $1.5 million spent as administrative charges and Esta-code allowances by the embassy during the period under review.
The committee’s directive was sequel to the 2015 audited report of the ministry submitted to the committee by the Auditor General of the Federation, Anthony Ayine.
Angered by the alleged financial recklessness of some of the embassy staff in Tel-Aviv, the Chairman of Senate Committee, Urhoghide, directed that the former permanent secretary in the ministry must be compelled to account for the reported mismanaged funds in the embassy.
He added that all those who perpetrated the alleged infractions must be identified and made to face the full wrath of the law.
Salawu Zubair, who stood in for the permanent secretary of the ministry, could, however, not give convincing response to the committee over the series of queries raised by the Auditor-General of Federation over activities of the Nigerian embassy in Israel.
The Auditor General’s report read in part: “The sum of $858,704,50 was generated as revenue in respect of visa and administrative charges for the period 2013 to 2015.
“The following irregularities were observed: ‘Treasury book 6A and Treasury Book 6 revenue booklets were not kept, and consequently, not made available. Revenue collector’s registers with details of TR6A and relevant amount were not maintained
“Revenue cash books were not updated with relevant entries throughout 2014. The permanent secretary has been requested to explain these irregularities in revenue collection, account for the sum of $858,704.50 collected as well as carry out the surcharge of officers involved; otherwise, the full weight of financial regulations 3112 (1) should be applied, forwarding evidence of action taken for audit verification.
“The sum of $187,554.49 was transferred from revenue to overhead accounts as revealed in the revenue cash books of 2013 and 2015.
“The amount was claimed to have been borrowed from the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) account for the period but was never paid back. This action contravenes financial regulations 236.
“The permanent secretary has been requested to recover the entire amount and forward evidence of recovery and remittance to the government for audit verification. Audit examination revealed that out of the sum, $305,577 was unaccounted for.
“It was also observed that between 2013 and 2015, the sum of N517,247,500.8 was remitted to the embassy.
“The sum for capital, personnel and overhead cost-these remittances were all paid into one account.
“This is a violation of financial regulations 701 which requires separate bank accounts to be maintained for capital and overhead to enable transparent rendition of expenditure return in accordance with budgetary provisions.
“The expenditure return rendered by the embassy cannot be admissible as a true reflection of transaction of the lumping of expenditure remittances (personnel, overhead and capital) into bank account.
“The permanent secretary has been requested to explain these banking irregularities and revert to the separation of bank accounts in accordance with statutory regulations, forwarding evidence of action taken for audit verification.
“During the audit examination of payment voucher, the total sum of $158, 000 was paid as Estacode allowance to home-based staff to accompany Christians pilgrims from Nigeria to various religious sites.
“However, it was revealed while going through the supporting documents attached to the payment voucher that these pilgrims were usually accompanied by the Nigerian Pilgrims Commission, hence there is no need for embassy staff to escort them. The permanent secretary has been requested to stop further wastage of statutory allocations on meaningless pilgrimage tours that will aid the embassy on accomplishing its mandate and in informing me accordingly on action taken.
“During the verification of the AIEs extracted from the ministry into the AIEs files maintained at the Nigerian embassy in Tel-Aviv, it was observed that AIEs totaling N331million extracted from the ministry of foreign affairs did not reflect at the embassy.”