President orders probe
Three key aides of President Muhammadu Buhari are likely to face the music over embarrassing manipulations found in the 2016 Budget.
Following the incriminating revelations that persons described as ‘budget mafia’ heavily padded the 2016 budget, President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered thorough and immediate investigation into allegations.
The President, who returned Thursday from the United Kingdom where he went for a six-day medical holiday, according to the Presidency sources, was embarrassed by the scathing allegations of fraudulent padding of allocations in the 2016 budget.
Sources say he was not only piqued, but stunned by the boldness of these elements in key agencies of government, who despite his avowed determination to identify and punish corrupt persons, still attempted to pad up the budget in a manner that makes nonsense of his change mantra.
Accordingly, we learnt the President has given strict orders that security operatives painstakingly scrutinise the budget, spot out areas of discrepancies and haul in persons remotely connected with the corrupt act.
An online news report had following confirmed reports of efforts by agents of the Federal Government to replace a doctored version of the budget with the original copy submitted to the National Assembly last December, blown the lid on large-scale discrepancies and ambiguities found in the budget.
The President wants security operatives working in conjunction with seniors officials in the Budget Office, National Planning, Ministry of Finance and other agencies to identify the culprits.
An extensive analysis of the budget exposed questionable details, with the National Assembly on Tuesday suspending deliberations on the document indefinitely.
The chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje, (APC-Gombe State), and his House of Representatives counterpart, Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC-Kano), said the suspension was necessary to enable the National Assembly carry out “proper clean-up” of the budget.
Earlier, a senior presidency official blamed “budget mafia” for the controversial contents, in reference to civil servants responsible for preparing the budget.
Another top administration official on Thursday gave further details on how the government was responding to the embarrassing budget allocations.
He pleaded anonymity, and said the government was avoiding publicly stating its position on the matter for now to avoid playing into the hands of its critics.
The official said both the Finance and Budget & National Planning ministries were determined to effect the necessary corrections and turn in a clean copy of the document for approval.
He blamed most of the errors in the budget on “over-ambitious civil servants” in the budget office who handled the preparation of the document prior to the appointment of ministers by Buhari.
He said by the time the ministers were eventually appointed, they had no sufficient time to properly scrutinize the budget for errors, in view of the tight deadline each of the ministries got before the final presentation to the joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015.
To enable the budget to be cleaned up of all the controversial allocations, the official said a high-powered panel had been constituted with a mandate to investigate all observations and concerns by individuals, media and agencies, particularly the National Assembly.
“The presidency has ordered the immediate investigation of all the allegations and issues, particularly on padding, raised by the National Assembly on various ministries, departments and agencies of government,” he said.
“The investigative panel is expected to critically look into the budget item-by-item, incident-by-incident, with particular attention to the reactions from the National Assembly, ministries, media, civil society groups or indeed anybody that raised concerns regarding the padding of the budget,” the source said adding it has the mandate to correct errors found therein.
It remained unclear what sanctions the government was considering for officials that might be found to be involved in padding the budget. Our first source had said those involved might be fired.
The House of Representatives had asked government to order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to arrest and prosecute top civil servants behind the budget padding scandal.
On its part, the Senate said that apart from the prosecution of the civil servants, the Minister of National Planning and Budget, Udo Udoma and other top officials of the ministry should also be sanctioned.