N11.579tr in ECA Unaccounted for in 11 years

THE SUN
By STEVE AGBOTA

The last may not have been heard of the deep-rooted sleaze in various Federal Government agencies and institutions as a recent report has revealed how an estimated N11.5 trillion, an equivalent of $82.26 billion lodged in the Excess Crude Account in the Central Bank of Nigeria vanished without a trace.

The unaccounted fund in the ECA, the report said was traceable to misappropriation and lack of transparency in handling of public funds between 2007 and 2017.

The startling revelation was made by some economic analysts who gathered at a roundtable meeting on, “A Savings and Stabilization Mechanism for Nigeria,” organized by Shehu Yar’Adua Foundation in Lagos yesterday.

According to an Economic Analyst, Bode Longe, expected inflow to ECA was $162.50 billion, while withdrawals from the account as Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) distribution plus Sure-P and NIPP was $82.92 billion.

According to him, net expected balance in ECA as at 2017 was $84.54 billion and amount unaccounted for within the period of 11 years was $82.26 billion, equivalent to N11.579 trillion in ECA. He noted that $79.74 billion or N11.131 trillion was also unaccounted for in ECA in over eight years while $2.52 billion or N448 billion was unaccounted for in ECA in three years.

This was as public policy analyst, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, stated that Nigeria conservative earned an estimated $1 trillion in oil revenue, but made no significant savings, nor had these earnings translated to lasting and productive capital through human development, physical infrastructure and institutions.

According to her, the Obasanjo administration’s economic reforms of 2003-2007 represented the first attempt at breaking the pattern through the innovation of a “savings mechanism” known as ECA. According to her, ECA proved so successful that at the end of that administration in 2007, it had accumulated $17 billion despite paying the Paris Club $12.4 billion.

She, however, regretted that “The tempo of the accumulation of savings was not sustained by two successive administrations of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2007-2010) and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015). The situation worsened thereafter, despite six years of record high oil prices, which could have built up Nigeria’s foreign reserves to as much as $100 billion including an ECA level of at least $40 billion. The depletion of ECA to about $2.5 billion has made the country more vulnerable than it was in the past and put the economy at great risk.”

She lamented that Nigeria has failed to make the transition from a country to a nation and from a nation to a capable state, a situation that has warped the country’s capacity to organize its economic governance creditably to produce enviable development outcomes like Botswana did even as a diamond rich country.

Ezekwesili said, “If anything in recent times points to the absence of the capable state, it is the current parlous state of public finance in Nigeria following the recent collapse of oil prices.”

The collapse of oil prices just about the end of 2014 has once again severely devastated our public finance already and passed through the rest of our economy adversely.

“Unlike Nigeria, Botswana has maintained one of the highest growth rates since independence in 1965 and transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to an upper-middle-income country through a combination of good economics and good politics as widely acknowledged.”

At the end of the round table, it was recommended in a communiqué issued by Director, Public Initiative of Shehu Yar’Adua Foundation, Amara Nwankpa, that government follow due process in management of ECA in line with demands from Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC). Government should ensure that energy data and statistics are accessible to the public and place a priority on investment over consumption.

Government should also ensure that all tiers of government meet their financial obligations to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) account. And also collapse the ECA and 0.5 per cent stabilization account into the stabilization account of SWF.

It was also recommended that civil society should develop effective messaging to drive conversations regarding transparency and accountability and adopt and share content regarding savings and stabilization frameworks that have worked in other countries.
Simplify data, statistics, indicators and analysis for Nigerians at the grassroots to engage, sustain conversations and messaging on savings and stabilization mechanisms with key advocacy actors, oil and media and create awareness on the importance and benefits of effective stabilization mechanisms to society at all levels.

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