ICPC’s budget padding allegation

By now, Nigerians must be tired of hearing and reading stories of graft and sleaze perpetrated by officials of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government. There just seems to be no end to these stories, with the culprits walking as free (wo)men while committing monumental crimes. In yet another corruption story, ahead of President Muhammadu Buhari’s presentation of the 2023 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) told the Senate penultimate week that the N13.59 trillion 2021 budget was padded by the various MDAs with duplicated projects worth N300 billion, while duplicated projects worth N100 billion were also inserted into the N17.12 trillion 2022 budget by some MDAs. This was in addition to the N49.9billion  tracked as salary for ghost workers between January and June this year. The  ICPC chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, made the revelations during an interaction with members of the Senate Committee on Finance. According to the ICPC boss, the duplicated projects were tracked through thorough scrutinisation carried out on approved projects for the various MDAs.

He said: “The names of the MDAs involved in project duplications running into billions of naira and the fictitious payrolls are available and will be forwarded to the committee. The good thing about the preemptive moves made by us is that funds for the fraudulent acts were prevented from being released to the affected MDAs and it is gratifying that the Finance Ministry and the Accountant General’s office cooperated with us. From our own end, detection of such projects is done by verifying their locations and names, following which we tell the appropriate authorities not to release wrongly budgeted money to them” The ICPC boss urged the relevant committees of the National Assembly to be on the lookout for similar project duplications in the proposed N19.76 trillion 2023 budget. On its part, the committee expressed satisfaction with the presentations, adding that the operational cost of the agency would be increased to enable it to roll out more proactive measures against corrupt practices across the various MDAs.

Just like the Senate committee did, Nigerians definitely must be impressed by the proactive ways in which the ICPC is fighting corruption. It is indubitable that, as noted by the committee’s chairman, Senator Olamilekan Adeola, the ICPC’s submissions “clearly show that all hope is not lost for our dear country as far as fighting corruption is concerned.” But then, it is apposite to ask why these infractions escaped detection at the National Assembly in the first place. Members of the National Assembly’s committees which have oversight functions over the various MDAs saw copies of the budget proposals and vetted them, so how did they fail to detect and stop potential sleaze of such a huge proportion?  What were the committee members doing? Were they on a safari?

Besides, at the level of the executive arm of government, individual estimates are also supposed to undergo scrutiny, so why was this not done? It is clear that were it not for the eagle-eyed ICPC, the nation would have been robbed blind by the criminals behind the budget charade at the MDAs. The conclusion is therefore inescapable that both the executive and the legislative arms of the government are short-changing the country through laxity or outright connivance. It is a shame that it has taken the ICPC to alert the National Assembly to the grand larceny that it should have prevented in the first place

If anything, the revelations by the ICPC boss, who together with Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (Retd) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Professor Ishaq Oloyede of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) seems to be virtually the only bright spots in public service under the current administration,  should be of serious concern to all Nigerians. It puts into bold relief the manner in which the country has always been shortchanged and served fraudulently by its so-called leaders with their corrupt outlook on the processes of governance. The budgets in question were presented as having gone through the painstaking processes of the executive and the legislative arms of government, yet they were suffused with corrupt duplication of projects to show that there was really nothing thorough or above board about the governance processes in the country!

There is no special way that the ICPC came up with identifying and isolating duplicated projects in the budget that the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), which was supposed to be the clearing house for all budget proposals and the Federal Ministry of Finance, which was to finally crosscheck the budget before final presentation at the National Assembly, and the National Assembly itself that was supposed to scrutinise every budget through its various committees at the level of the two chambers, could not have done before unleashing the fraudulent budgets on the country. Evidently, the budgets went through shoddy scrutiny and cross-checking at all levels due to incompetence and corruption, creating the current spectacle of dubious and duplicated projects that the ICPC is publicly calling out.

There is certainly a need for a radical restructuring of the processes of governance in the country. There must be a focus on overcoming the massive corruption characterising the whole government structure. The ICPC has a responsibility in this regard to come up with more precise details surrounding the duplicated projects alluded to in its report and to be ready to continuously beam a searchlight on the processes in order to put a stop to the corruption underpinning governance in the country. On their part, Nigerians, the ultimate victims of the corruption perpetrated by the MDAs, should demand accountability and further reports on the actions taken to prosecute the perpetrators of the crimes already identified by the ICPC.

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