Now that the executive arm of government has started consultations ahead of the 2017 budget presentation, it is commendable and progressive. This may be so because the budget ministry does not want to repeat past mistakes, especially noticeable errors in the current budget which passage was delayed because of several avoidable inaccuracies. The action will also enable the National Assembly ample time to scrutinise and approve the executive estimates, while the President upon satisfaction would accent to the bill, as the 2017 Money Act that will stimulate economic activities and start a new year of hope.
But it should not be forgotten so soon the controversies and hiccups that surrounded the current budget, like padding and duplicating subheads which was uncovered when parliament began to scrutinise it.
Padding a budget means to criminally increase subheads of expenditure estimates in any item for personal enrichment and embezzlement. It is also the act of submitting multiple items with subtle, unclear and ambiguous titles. It can also mean jerking up or over invoicing project sums as in one case uncovered in this year’s budget where N100 million was quoted for the construction of just one borehole by one of the famous ministries. Budget padding is an illicit act by whatever definition.
Coming as a reoccurring misnomer since 1999, certainly this must be avoided in the 2017 exercise if the budget ministry is prepared to do the right thing. The executive arm must ensure it supervises and examines figures that are forwarded to Mr. President from the various ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, for onward presentation to the joint sitting of the National Assembly early enough. When they do so, sufficient time, detailed analysis of the figures, good interpretation as well as patriotism, and honesty are then deployed by both sides to do a good budget that will no longer embarrass the President and his administration but put smiles on the faces of Nigerians. Again not far from this, the Buhari administration must lead by example by prosecuting and sanctioning those who were involved in the 2016 budget padding exercise, the public should know them.
Apparently, severe as it is, unconfirmed reports indicate that no less than one quarter of the nation’s yearly budget figures are carted away by top government officials and lawmakers through budget stuffing. We see the stealing as economic sabotage and a wicked act against Nigerians. Therefore, it is a criminal offense for those saddled with such responsibility of budgeting to turn around and line their pockets with a quarter of the budgeted sum. We know what a quarter of N6 trillion for instance is and what infrastructure it can provide in the economy.
We are in agreement with this administration, going forward, should punish not only persons who doctored the budget, but others who padded, it in line with President Buhari’s zero tolerance for corruption. If we stop budget padding, we will be saving a quarter of the total budget annually that finds its way into private pockets and as well as reduce deficit financing.
Ahead of the 2017 budget, ministers should ensure they supervise their budgets and sign the estimates before they are presented to the budget office and National Assembly. The National Assembly should be supported continuously by allowing it to scrutinise the estimates more thoroughly. Similarly, the executive and the legislative arms of government must collaborate more than ever before, as they are currently engaging in order to deepen the conversation; avoid inaccuracies, discrepancies in the future to eliminate criminality in the budgeting process.
Periodic budget roundtables should be held more often between the Ministry of Budget Planning and that of Finance and various committees of the NASS. Budget padding is a cancer that has confronted the nation without diagnosis, but in this ‘change’ administration of President Buhari, we want to see things done differently, where those who pad budgets are openly sanctioned.