The Public Accounts Committee of the National Conference misled Nigerians by claiming that the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) was unable to account for N540 billion.
The committee’s claim was rather bogus and sensational.
By virtue of its enabling law, NPA is a self-accounting agency of government that generates its revenue, submit budget proposal to the National Assembly, spend out of the money and remit the surplus into the coffers of government.
The committee took a rather simplistic approach at the issue of revenue. I am not sure they really understood the issues at stake.
Nigerian Ports Authority under the Nigerian Ports Authority Act, Cap N 126 LFN, 2004 has powers to construct, equip, operate and provide port services to the general public. NPA is a commercial arm of the Government which has to operate almost like any other business and make profit before remitting its operating surplus to the Government, being the owner. This is net of all cost of undertaking operations including development/maintenance of facilities/purchase of equipment and administrative expenses.
In pursuance of the above, NPA was given financial autonomy under sections 13-14 of the Ports Act to apply its revenues towards carrying out the operations, development of ports purchasing of equipment before remitting the surplus to government.
Section 14(l) of the Ports Act allows the Authority to maintain a general reserve fund into which it is to set aside appropriate amounts for replacement, contingencies and other purposes. The monies are to be applied for the purposes of the Authority with the approval of the Minister as provided under section 14(2). However, with the coming into force of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the appropriations in respect of the Authority are approved by the National Assembly by virtue of section 81 of the Constitution.
Section 15 allows the Authority to apply its surplus revenues for its own purposes as it may determine. With the coming into effect of the 1999 Constitution, the surplus revenues of the Authority were made subject to the Consolidated Revenue Fund established under section 81(1) of the Constitution. This supersedes section 15 of the Ports Act in order to bring it in line with the Constitution.
To give effect to this provision of the Constitution, the National Assembly passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. Section 22 (I) provides that notwithstanding anything in the law establishing any statutory corporation on the application of its surplus revenues, it shall be entitled to retain only one fifth of those surplus revenues. The remaining portion is to be remitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Government. The Authority has since been remitting its revenue surpluses accordingly.
The Ports Act did not authorise payment into the Federation Account.
The Fiscal Responsibility which deals with the matter however authorised payment to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This is however in respect of revenue surpluses after meeting all costs.
It should be noted that what is remitted is the revenue surpluses after meeting all operational, maintenance, development and administrative cost as appropriated by the National Assembly under section 81 of the Constitution in each year. The Authority therefore deals with the revenues only as appropriated. And I know that NPA has been faithful in remitting its surpluses.
Members of the Constitutional Conference and the general public will do well to disregard the portion of the report concerning NPA which is highly misleading.