The Federal Government has launched an Asset Tracking and Management Project, ATMProject, through which it will locate, assess and evaluate all its moveable and immoveable assets, Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, has announced.

She also said a Central Asset Register would be created and domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Finance for recording the actual quantity, value, condition, and location of all the capital assets owned by the Federal Government.

“For the first time since independence, a central and unified national database of assets would be generated and maintained for the purpose of recording, tracking and managing the huge investments in capital assets used by government for the delivery of goods and services to the citizenry,” the minister was quoted as saying by the Director of Information, Mr Salisu Na’Inna Dambatta, in a statement issued in Abuja, on Monday.

The World Bank estimates that $20 to $40 billion is stolen from developing countries every year. Because of the often times sensational nature of such embezzlement, much is written about them. Without budget transparency or external monitoring, it has been impossible to track the use of these funds and to find out whether or not the money has reached the country’s poor citizens.

Civil society groups also need to play a role in asset return. When government officials plunder state treasuries or extract bribes for concessions, the citizens suffer the most. Independent local and international NGOs are best positioned to ensure that returned assets are put to the most productive use.

Mrs Adeosun said the initiative was designed to enhance accountability, promote transparency and deepen efficiency in line with the change agenda of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The asset tracking exercise and register would also make planning and control easier,’’ she added. According to her, the Asset Register will enable the government to know and monitor, real time, online information on the inventory of government assets.

She explained that implementing the Asset Tracking and Management Project and the Asset Register would complete Nigeria’s full adoption and migration to an accrual-based accounting system, and give the government the ability to prepare financial statements as required under the International Public Sector Accounting Standards, IPSAS, by first determining and quantifying our fixed assets.

Consequently, the minister has issued a circular to all Federal Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, MDAs, requesting their accounting officers to prepare an inventory of all fixed assets held as at December 31, 2016, to facilitate physical verification by the project team. The circular further requested all heads of MDAs to ensure that all assets held by current and former staff were fully accounted for.

“In this regard, you may find it necessary to contact any former staff and/or political office holders to avail them the opportunity to return relevant assets in their possession. All inventory records submitted will be cross-checked to capital releases and project account purchases to ensure completeness. Where assets have been sold or otherwise disposed of, they must be recorded with supporting authorization for sale and evidence of payment, where applicable,” the circular read. It drew the attention of heads of MDAs to chapter 26 of the Financial Regulations, with regards to disposals of assets and warned that “any asset not accessible for physical inspection and not disposed of in accordance with financial requirements will be deemed to have been illegally withheld or converted.”

Despite the crusades of anti-corruption in Nigeria, its magnitude appears to be on the high side, but we all know you can’t trust a cat with a fish. Many government initiatives have been flawed by graft practices perpetrated by the people in government – public officials, which tends to weaken institutions and retard economic development. There are doubts on how transparent this program will be to provide the much-needed accountability which has been the hallmark of President’s Buhari’s administration.

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