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AuGF says Labour Ministry under Ngige can’t account for N3.1bn, orders refund



In a move that has sent shockwaves through the Nigerian labour sector, the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (oAuGF) has reportedly requested the Ministry of Labour and Employment to return a staggering N3.1 billion ($7.07 million USD) misappropriated funds.

The query was contained in the non-compliance with extant government regulations in government expenses for the 2020 Audit report submitted to the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts chaired by Hon. Bamidele Salam.

In its recommendation, the office of the AuGF who accused the Federal Ministry of Labour of various infractions and failure to show evidence of expenses carried out within the period under review, directed the Ministry to refund the money to government coffers.

According to the audit report, oAuGF alleged that the Ministry failed to provide documents, files, correspondences, returns, and accounting records relating to the running of the Geneva Desk Office and how the total of N351.252 million was spent in 2019 and 2020.

Dr Chris Ngige was in charge of the Ministry of Labour between 2019 and 2023 under the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari.

It said: “The revised schedules were inflated and in some cases, especially for the capital items, the quantities to be supplied were reduced to accommodate the inflated prices. The revised schedule caused the government to lose a total of N15,502,677.07.

“Evidence of justification for the variation in prices and quantities such as applications by the contractors, appropriate approvals from the initial approving authority who approved the original contracts, reports of market survey to support the prices reviewed, and Need Assessment Report to justify that these items and the quantities were actually needed were not produced for audit.”

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This development raises serious questions about accountability and transparency within the ministry, potentially leading to a period of finger-pointing and investigations.

It’s unclear how the funds were misused, when the discrepancies were discovered, or if any disciplinary actions are planned against ministry officials. The nature of the misappropriation, whether a case of blatant corruption, negligence, or a bureaucratic mix-up, will significantly impact the public’s perception of the Labour Ministry and its leadership.

Possible Explanations and Fallout

There are several possible explanations for the alleged misappropriation. The funds could have been earmarked for specific programs but diverted for unauthorized purposes. Alternatively, there could be a case of bureaucratic inefficiency, with funds being poorly managed or lost due to lax financial controls. The worst-case scenario would involve deliberate corruption, with ministry officials enriching themselves through fraudulent activities.

The fallout from this incident could be significant. Nigerian workers, already grappling with economic hardship, may feel betrayed by the alleged misuse of funds meant to support their well-being and advocate for their rights. Trust in the Labour Ministry is likely to be eroded, potentially leading to calls for a thorough investigation and potential resignations or prosecutions.

Transparency and Accountability Crucial

The onus now falls on the Ministry of Labour and Employment to provide a transparent and detailed explanation of the alleged misappropriation. A full public accounting of the misused funds, including how the discrepancy was identified and what steps are being taken to recover the money, is essential. Additionally, Nigerians will be keen to see if any disciplinary actions are taken against those responsible, regardless of their position within the ministry.

Potential Impact on Industrial Relations

This incident has the potential to further strain the already complex relationship between the Labour Ministry, trade unions, and the government. Unions may view the alleged misappropriation as evidence that the ministry is not prioritizing the needs of workers. This could lead to increased industrial unrest and make it more difficult to reach agreements on critical issues such as minimum wage and workers’ rights.

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