Budget padding culprits will be punished, Buhari vows

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President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed that all those involved in the padding of the 2016 National Budget, which led to the discrepancies in the document, will face the most severe punishment.

He said the alterations, which he described as embarrassing and disappointing, made the document, being debated in the National Assembly, completely different from what was prepared by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

According to a statement on Wednesday by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the President spoke in Riyadh while addressing the Nigerian community in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday evening.

The President was said to have condemned the distortion of the budget proposals by those he called entrenched interests.

Buhari stated that since he had been holding public offices, he had never heard about budget padding before the current incident.

He regretted that the unauthorised alterations had completely changed the document from the one he presented to the National Assembly.

The President, however, gave the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, a clean bill of health, saying he did a good job.

Buhari said, “The culprits will not go unpunished. I have been a military governor, petroleum minister, military Head of State and headed the Petroleum Trust Fund.

“Never had I heard the words budget padding. Our Minister of Budget and National Planning did a great job with his team.

“The minister became almost half his size during the time, working night and day to get the budget ready, only for some people to pad it.

“What he gave us was not what was finally being debated. It is very embarrassing and disappointing. We will not allow those who did it to go unpunished.”

The President also assured members of the Nigerian community that his administration was working diligently to fulfil its campaign promises, particularly on security, unemployment and corruption.

Reaffirming his government’s zero tolerance for corruption, Buhari said the war against corruption was a monumental task that he was determined to tackle successfully.

“We have zero tolerance for corruption and other unethical practices. We will deal decisively with anybody found wanting,” he promised members of the Nigerian community.

Buhari also used the opportunity of the gathering to brief Nigerians in Saudi Arabia on his administration’s efforts to end the Boko Haram insurgency and terrorism in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government are to lose “idle funds” in many sub-heads of their capital votes this year, The PUNCH learnt on Wednesday.

Findings showed that the development was fallout of the ongoing clean-up of the 2016 budget by committees of the National Assembly.

It was gathered that the House of Representatives in particular, had directed its standing committees to remove all idle funds and re-allocate them to sub-heads that were in urgent need of money for capital projects.

This came to the fore on Monday when the health ministry uncovered the allocation of N2.8bn meant for the public and family health departments in the 2016 budget to a contractor for a project that had yet to be evaluated or awarded.

The 2016 budget of N6.07tn has a capital component of N1.8tn, up from the N557bn budgeted in 2015.

A top source told The PUNCH that most of the MDAs had such idle funds in sub-heads where they were not needed.

The source added, “What has come to our notice is that they keep money, where, for one reason or another, there is no intention to use the funds.

“Some may be a case of lack of capacity, but there are several cases where the money is just left lying.

“The committees will put these funds where they will be useful. Our target is that more capital projects should be executed this year.

“The practice of spending 100 per cent of the overhead earmarked for capital projects, while the latter are abandoned must stop this year.”

Investigations showed that over 15 standing committees had already submitted their recommendations on the re-allocation of funds to the main Committee on Appropriation.

The Committee on Appropriation, which is chaired by an All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Kano State, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, was expected to sit on Tuesday to receive reports from more standing committees on their findings.

The House had shut its plenary for the second time on Wednesday last week to give the committees additional time to complete the budget defence.

When The PUNCH sought the comments of the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, he said the Reps could not give a full report on the budget until the Committee on Appropriation had concluded its assignment.

Namdas added, “The truth is that the defence of proposals by the MDAs is still in progress.

“Those committees that have completed their sessions with the MDAs are to submit their reports to the Committee on Appropriation.

“The Committee on Appropriation will have to compile all the reports and then make its own recommendations to the House. So, for now, we don’t have a general outlook of the clean-up.’’

Namdas added that the House would keep to its promise to pass the budget in the second week of March.

Meanwhile, officials of the Ministry of Health have called for an investigation into the allocation of N2.8bn, meant for the public and family health departments in the 2016 budget, to a contractor for a project that has yet to be evaluated or awarded.

It was learnt that the ministry did not allocate any funds to the two critical departments, which were in charge of epidemic outbreak and maternal mortality.

Officials, who spoke to one of our correspondents on Wednesday in Abuja, insisted that the Federal Government needed to probe and sanction the personnel involved in the scam, which was uncovered a few weeks ago by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, during a top management meeting of the ministry.

The Head, Planning, Research and Statistics Department in the ministry, Dr. Ngozi Azodo, whose unit is responsible for the budget preparation, could not be reached for comment. She did not respond to repeated calls to her mobile.

Also, she had yet to respond to a text message that was sent to her as of the time of filing this report.

The Director, Press, Ministry of Health, Mrs. Boade Akinola, admitted that there were discrepancies in the ministry’s budget, but noted that such alterations had been resolved.

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