The National Assembly has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to institute a high-powered probe panel to investigate the alleged padding of the 2016 budget by some top civil servants.
The House of Representatives said top civil servants responsible for the padding should be prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission.
The Senate, on its part, said besides probing the padding, the Minister of National Planning and Budget, Senator Udo Udoma, should also be sanctioned.
The senators argued that civil servants alone could not have perpetrated the embarrassing act alone without the connivance and collaboration of the budget office, supervised by Udoma.
Presidency sources had, on Saturday, spoken of attempts by a ‘budget mafia’ in the Federal Government’s bureaucracy to scuttle innovations introduced into the budget by inflating figures.
It was learnt that the mafia proposed a budget of N9.7tn for capital spending and overhead, excluding personnel cost, as against the Presidency’s initial total estimate of about N8tn.
The group was said to have proposed N3tn as overhead alone out of the N9.7tn, a figure the Presidency later slashed to N163bn.
The source in the Presidency, who claimed that the mafia was responsible for the controversial provisions in the eventual N6.07tn budget sent to the National Assembly by the Presidency, added, “These bureaucrats also proposed to spend N2.1trn on personnel for the 2016 estimate compared to about N1.8tn in the 2015 budget.
“But the Presidency also cut this down to N1.7tn in the final estimate sent to the legislature.’’
Speaking through the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, in Abuja, the House expressed happiness that it was the Presidency that discovered the alleged fraud.
Namdas recalled that in the past, the National Assembly was easily blamed for such malpractices “even where the legislature knew nothing about them.”
He added that having admitted that it had identified the culprits, the Presidency should immediately commence the process of prosecuting them.
Namdas stated, “We are in full support of the prosecution of any senior civil servant alleged to have tried to sabotage the 2016 budget.
“It is good that it was the executive that discovered this issue and admitted that some persons were involved.
“They should be prosecuted in line with the provisions of our laws.”
Also, some members of the Senate asked Buhari to institute a strong probe into the alleged padding of the 2016 Appropriation Bill with a view to establishing the culpability or otherwise of public officers and civil servants saddled with the task of producing the document.
The senators, however, said the civil servants alone could not have perpetrated the act.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, said Udoma should be held responsible for the unfortunate development because he scrutinised the final copy of the document before submitting it to Buhari, who presented it to the National Assembly.
Ibrahim added, “I don’t believe that some civil servants were the ones behind the scandal. The ministers of finance and her counterpart in the National Planning and Budget have a strong economic team working with them at the Budget Office.
“They have all the revenue envelopes at their disposal to scrutinise. They are to be blamed for this mess because ministry officials in the Ministries, Department and Agencies do not prepare the budget. They only send their input while the Budget Office does the final preparation.”
On his part, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications and Technology, Prof. Ajayi Boroffice, described the incident as most unfortunate, noting that the Senate was confused and perplexed by the development.
He argued that some insiders within the Presidency and the Budget Office were solely responsible for the financial scandal rocking the current fiscal document.
He said, “In budget preparation, the MDAs operate with the Budget Office. But it is the Budget Office, through the ministries supervising it, that would present the final copy to the President. Those who are behind this mess should be exposed and dealt with. This is highly unfortunate.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, also condemned the budget padding, calling on the Presidency to take appropriate actions to uncover those behind it.
Meanwhile, the envelope system of budget, which was used before now in the preparation of the budget document might have been responsible for the inflated figures inserted into the fiscal document.
One of our correspondents gathered from a top official in the Ministry of Finance that the envelope system, which was used in the past in the preparation of the budget encouraged the inflation of the expenditure in the budget.
The official, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity as he was not officially permitted to do so, stated that the template used under the envelope system gave room for the padding of the budget.
The official stated that over the years, the issue of padding of the budget by MDAs of government had always come up when the budget was submitted to the National Assembly.
Explaining how the envelope system encouraged padding, the official said the system was introduced by the Federal Government in 2003 and worked by providing each MDA with a maximum amount for its capital and recurrent needs for the fiscal year.
The source said under the system, monitoring and evaluation had not been effective since MDAs were left with money as they wished.
The official said, “The issue of padding of budget has always been there and previous governments have tried to stop it but the problem lies with the budget template.
“Before the introduction of the Zero-Based Budget with the 2016 budget, what we had was the envelope budgeting system. Under this system, there is a template whereby a lump sum is allocated to MDAs based on the programmes of government.
“So, based on this template, those responsible for budget in their respective MDAs will start putting in the figures to justify the need to get the amount allocated to them even when they don’t have any important project or programmes to fund.
“Many of these officers do this in connivance with politicians and top directors in MDAs.
“A lot of people have raised issues with this budgeting system that it encourages corruption but previous administrations since 2003 did nothing about it.”
Calls and a text message sent to the mobile of the Director, Information in the ministry, Mr Charles Dafe, on the controversy trailing the budget, were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.
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