Friday, 29th September 2023

The N16b padding of 2022 budget

By Editorial Board
22 December 2021   |   3:55 am
The allegation by the Senate on the N16 billion padding of the 2022 Federal Government budget proposal by Ministry of Environment showcases the sorry state of the budgeting process in Nigeria.

[FILES] President Muhammadu Buhari presenting the 2022 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja.

The allegation by the Senate on the N16 billion padding of the 2022 Federal Government budget proposal by Ministry of Environment showcases the sorry state of the budgeting process in Nigeria. There are many others like this and they cut across the three tiers of government. Indeed, this is a matter of serious concern. This plethora of incidences of alleged budget padding has become very worrisome. The various incidences of inappropriateness, already reported in the media, in the preparation and review of budget proposals before the two arms of the National Assembly have shed light on numerous abuses in the budgetary process. This is one of the major avenues in which corruption is perpetuated in the country. The displays in the various budget hearings at the various Committees of the National Assembly in relation to the submissions of various ministries, departments and agencies of government are symptomatic of the pervasive nature of corrupt practices in the country. Is it any wonder that in certain climes, Nigeria has been described as “fantastically corrupt,” even in the presence of a president elected upon his avowal to fight corruption? The ongoing budget hearings on the 2022 Federal have thrown open a can of worms on the quiet looting of the public coffers which appear to be the pastime of senior public officials over the years even prior to the inception of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2015. Instances abound.

First, the revelation by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment, Ike Ekweremadu, that N6 billion which was queried in 2020 when added to the Ministry of Environment’s 2021 budget was brought back in 2022 as N16 billion. The amount in question was even supposed to be for the servicing of debts collected by state governments. This was also for a loan that has a moratorium of 10 years; yet provisions are being made for this in the Federal Government budget. Second, the issues raised by a civil society organisation, the Anti-Corruption Network that 60 per cent of corruption issues in Nigeria are built and legalised in the country’s budgetary system are worth further interrogation and analysis. A case in point is the humongous size of the 2022 budget proposal for the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) put at N228 billion which not only is it higher than that of the entire National Assembly, the Judiciary and that of 24 states in the country, it includes frivolous provisions for uniform and clothing, construction of sports centres among others. Third, the ever-expansive provisions of N150.5 billion budget for the Presidency which exceeds the N134 billion provisions for the National Assembly has many of the provisions containing frivolous expenditure programmes. Across the entire budget, cases of duplications abound across budget heads and this has been the case over the years. Oftentimes, capital expenditure items procured in previous years are still within their lifespan are disposed off and new ones provided for at ridiculous costs. Fourth, the uncovering of a fictitious N4.5 billion item in the provision for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for the construction of police barracks is worrisome.

A close look at the entire budget provision by the various MDAs clearly indicates that indeed corruption is being perpetuated annually through the budgetary process and this cuts across the three tiers of government. In the states, this appears even worse with the budget process recorded as very opaque with the governors in conjunction with their Houses of Assembly through the Speakers colluding to fritter away public resources for the attainment of private ends. Where is public accountability in all these? There is the need for a more thorough budget screening and vetting process. The budget process has indeed become a very clear channel of the looting of public resources with over-invoicing and duplications as well as frivolous budgetary provisions accounting for the bulk of corruption cases that inhibit the delivery of necessary public goods to the deserving public.

There is the need to know how many MDAs are involved in the seeming annual racketeering. There is also the need to investigate the extent to which members of the National Assembly are aiding and abetting this unwholesome practice. The annual budget process appears to have become a “rub my back, I rub your back” process between the National Assembly and the MDAs, to the detriment of the general public. Punishment is necessary in this case but the question is “who punishes who?” It has been a hopeless case for the majority of Nigerians who have not seen meaningful development commensurate with the amounts being voted for annually. Invariably, unless there is a consequence for this abuse in the budget process, the practice will continue. It is not sufficient for the National Assembly to allege padding. They should identify the culpable officials who should be sanctioned.