By Emmanuel IFFER, Abuja
Many top civil servants are yet to wake up to the realisation that things have changed in the way government business is conducted, this is evident in the attempt by some government officials handling budget estimates to as usual manipulate and introduce some items for selfish gain into the 2016 estimate.
Findings by nationalTRAIL reveal that, like others before it, the 2016 budget estimate had items worth over 1.7 Trillion naira included in the final copy that was eventually presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly for necessary legislative action.
The budget estimate had items such as Aso Clinic(State House Medical Centre), as well as some items, simply lumped together as communication equipment, amongst several others that do not really march up with the vision of the present administration, neither has any direct or indirect impact on the lives of Nigerians.
A situation which is said to have not only embarrassed the president, but the whole of the cabinet and the presidency, which is why there are reports of the president’s harmer descending on some of the top officials involved in the act.
nationalTRAIL, learnt that President Muhammadu Buhari, has already ordered a compilation of names of officials fingered in the smuggling of items into the estimates, and it may only be a matter of time before his hammer falls on those who may have been manipulating the budgetary processes, by injecting figures that are later siphoned for private uses.
Findings reveal that, already, Permanent Secretaries who are the accounting officers of the various ministries and directors of finance and Accounts, under whose purview the preparation of budgets are anchored have been making frantic efforts to stave off the President’s action.
Knowledgeable sources told this newspaper that some of those bureaucrats handling budget issues, and have mastered the act of smuggling items that were not originally intended by the government to be included in the yearly estimates, had tried as it has become the norm, to frustrate the budget presentation before the end of last year.
“ You can see that this year’s budget also came in December, I can tell you that this is was deliberate, it was all to frustrate early presentation, these experts know how to create these problems, so there would not be enough time for proper scrutiny of the budget, knowing also that Nigerians are anxious to see things happening, and would also afford them the opportunity of last minutes rush and contract bazaar”
Another reliable source, conversant with the workings of the budget system, told our correspondent that budget preparation remains one of the biggest area where billions of the country’s resources are diverted into private pockets, saying, “ If we are serious to develop this country, we must be serious with our budgeting process, in fact we don’t have a budget, check it, in the last two or three years, have we had a budget in the real sense of it?.
“How can you be debating a budget till June in the year the budget should actually be working for the people, when will you implement it?, in the past years, Nigerian budget has not gone beyond 30 percent implementation, a budget is supposed to be ready latest by December 31, of the previous year, so that implementation begins January 1 of the intended year’, the source argued.
“ If we are serious, we must make it a constitutional thing, defining when a budget must be ready and announced just like it is done in other serious nations; like the USA whose budget for next year must get to the congress by February, that is the way to go.”
Further investigation reveal how the budget padding has been so perfected by MDAs in connivance with the Budget Office and budget committee at Federal Ministry of Finance, to the extent that it would require more than just an eagle eye to uncover.
nationalTRAIL learnt that sometimes the padding begins at the stage of issuing budgetary circular by the Federal Ministry of Finance, which is usually referred to as envelop, in which a ceiling is given to each MDA. Investigation showed that some MDAs and their top officials usually bribe at the envelop stage before circulars are issued so as to get a higher ceiling, or sometimes lobby and bribe at the budget committee level.
The National assembly is equally not insulated from this, according a source at the nation’s apex legislature; as most of the padding are allegedly perpetuated at that level since that arm of government has the final say in the budget process.
“ It is here that most of the padding of budget is done, MDAs come here to lobby and even bribe their way, those that cannot usually receive smaller allocations that can hardly meet their actual needs.
“ Let me tell you, most of what you see as passed budget is usually full of interest both at executive and legislative levels, not the genuine interest of developing the country” the source concluded.
It could be recalled that in 2005, then Minister for Education, Fabian Osuji and some members of the National Assembly, were accused of demanding and receiving bribe to increase the education ministry’s budgetary allocation, when Senator Adolfus Wambara, was the President of the Senate, an allegation that caused his removal as senate president.
But shortly after the initial national broadcast by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, and subsequent arrest of the accused, the matter has remained a mystery till date, with some of the principal actors, such as; Gabriel Suswam, then chairman house committee on Appropriation becoming the Governor of Benue State, while others have since moved on to other things, while the nation continue to bleed.