Secrecy Now In Nigerian Government’s Spending, Revenues As Open Treasury Portal Shuts Down
The Open Treasury Portal initiated by the Nigerian government to provide comprehensive data of all Ministries, Departments and Agencies on budget implementation, financial records as well as transactions above certain thresholds, is currently shut down with no explanation, an analysis by Daily Trust has shown.
This means that details of the revenues and spending of ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government are unknown and they cannot be held accountable.
A visit to the portal – http://opentreasury.gov.ng was greeted with a blank page after which a prompt “the site can’t be reached” popped up on the page.
However, worrying is the silence of the Nigerian government which had yet to state why the portal has remained inactive.
In December 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the open treasury portal (OTP), an accountability platform, which seeks to enable “timely availability of financial information to the civil society organisations and the public at large by all MDAs of the federal government”.
He had directed MDAs to publish daily treasury summary statements of financial inflows and outflows.
Buhari said the Accountant General’s office and all accounting officers must publish daily reports of their spending in the region of N10 million while all ministries, departments and agencies of government must do the same for payments above N5 million made from the public treasury.
Also, the AGF and all MDAs are expected to publish monthly budget performance reports, including their functions and economic activities performed by them within seven days to the end of the month.
In June 2020, a civic advocacy group, BudgIT, identified discrepancies in the open treasury portal.
The co-founder of the group, Seun Onigbinde, identified some loopholes in the financial records posted on the site and the need for improvement of the system.
Damilola Ogundipe, Communications Lead at BudgIT, in a statement said though the platform was innovative and commendable, much needed to be done so it could fully achieve its goal of enabling public transparency and accountability.
BudgIT in its report titled “OpenTreasury.gov.ng: Nigeria’s Spending Platform: Review, Gaps & Recommendations” analysed data uploaded on the portal from September 2018 to May 2020.
The group said it analysed over 100,000 payment entries from over 600 distinct spreadsheets.
Between January and July 2019, BudgiT said it discovered that large sums were paid into personal accounts; including several records with vague descriptions.
It said, “Over 2,900 payments to individuals were recorded at an aggregate value of N51 billion. A few examples include N2.04 billion, N2.04 billion and N1 billion paid into personal accounts on the 21st of June 2019 without any payment description along with another N68 million payment for “Ogunsuyi” and N15.8 million for “international” on other dates.
“In the same 2019, we also discovered payment records without descriptions or beneficiary information. At least 5,000 payment records valued at N278 billion were without descriptions and 275 payment records with a value of N43 billion were without beneficiary’s names.
“These inconspicuous payments cannot be assessed or traced by citizens and interested parties, thereby defeating the purpose of the platform to foster transparency.”
Speaking on the shutdown, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said while the problem may not be directly interpreted as corruption in the system, “it may be an indicator for the facilitator of corruption.”
SERAP Deputy Director, Kola Oluwadare, in an interview, said the government ought to have issued a statement, giving reasons why the portal was down and steps being taken to fix the problem.