Now that President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the 2016 budget into law, there is a sigh of relief nationwide. The economy will be stimulated, business activities will pick up. Commercial activities are expected to gear up notwithstanding effects of inflation on the people’s purchasing power.
But it should not be forgotten so soon the controversies and hiccups that surrounded the budget, like padding and duplicating subheads which are vexed issues linked to delay in having a national budget, which ought to be addressed. Going by recent revelations, it is true that the 2016 budget estimates were actually padded for criminal gains and government officials in the executive and legislature habitually commit this sleaze.
Facts emerged and there is no argument that before the new budget was finally signed, figures were jerked up and projects moved around indiscriminately by lawmakers for pecuniary political gains. Truly speaking, this misdemeanor is a recurring cankerworm.
Padding budgets means criminally increasing subheads of expenditure, estimates in any item for personal enhancement and embezzlement; highly placed public servants and politicians are those culpable of this offense. It is also the act of submitting multiple items with subtle, unclear and ambiguous titles. 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, is also a form of budget padding.
Coming as a reoccurring misnomer since 1999, the criminality is the same in momentum and carried out repeatedly during budgeting season. It is a period as it were, when top government officials, especially those in the budget office and the various ministries become multimillionaires and billionaires over night.
Recent outcry by the National Assembly over the 2016 budget is a tip of the iceberg because the illicit act has been ongoing to the extent that 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 robbery as economic sabotage and acts against the laws of the land. It is a criminal offense for those saddled with such responsibility of budgeting to stimulate the economy to line their pockets with one-quarter of the budgeted sum.
We are in agreement with this administration to 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 reduce deficit financing.
Ahead of the 2017 budget, ministers should ensure they supervise their budgets and sign-up the estimates before they are presented to the budget office and National Assembly to save Mr. President future embarrassments. 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 to dig deeper to unearth 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 sanctioned.