THE recent discovery of budget duplication amounting to the tune of N20.6bn in the 2022 budget by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is not a strange occurrence. Budget duplications amidst budgeting for frivolities have been an annual tradition in Nigeria’s budget cycle. Civil society organisations like the Centre for Social Justice have for more than 15 years identified such cycles of fraud and misappropriation in the budget and have recommended to the National Assembly, the Budget Office of the Federation and other relevant government agencies, action steps to be taken to curtail the trend. Unfortunately, the actors who should play a vital role in reducing the appropriation of wasteful and frivolous expenditure in the budget seem to be handicapped. In response to the discovery of budget duplication by the ICPC, the Budget office of the Federation recognised the existence of budget duplication in the budget but threw back the possibilities of prosecuting those responsible for such duplications in the budget to the ICPC.
It is necessary to state that the organisations responsible for budget padding, duplications and other forms of financial malpractice are economic saboteurs. If truly the government is serious about offering service to the people, then those responsible for such malpractices should not be left off the hook. By virtue of Section 14 (2)b of the 1999 Constitution, the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Likewise sec 16(b) imposes on government the duty to harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self reliant economy. Therefore, public resources appropriated through the budget must be seen to achieve this end and not to be used to serve the economic interest of few persons in government. To deal with economic saboteurs, there must be synergy between the anti-corruption agencies and agencies in charge of fiscal administrations, such as the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, the Budget Office of the Federation and the Auditor General of the Federation.
For instance, one of the mandates of The Fiscal Responsibility Commission being the coordinating government agency for the implementation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act is to ensure that government owned corporations remits 80 per cent of their operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation. The commission is also expected to publish the debt profile of states to ensure that they do not exceed their limits on borrowing. In the implementation of this mandate, the FRC should be able to produce reports of government owned agencies who have failed to remit operating surplus and liaise with the EFCC and ICPC for possible prosecution.
The FRC should also produce a report of domestic banks who issues loan to states despite exceeding their debt limits and work with the CBN for sanction of the erring banks as well as the ACAs for possible prosecution. The ICPC must be commended for the initiative of identifying frivolities in the budget, rather than wait for petitions to come to them, the EFCC and ICPC should see it as a responsibility to study reports of fiscal infractions, emanating from recognised institutions such as the Auditor General’s report and conduct investigations on public officers indicted in the reports without being prompted. They should be more proactive in the use of such reports. For instance the recent NEITI report has indicted some major oil companies operating in Nigeria for defaulting in the payment of tax worth over N2.7trn. It is expected that both the EFCC and the ICPC would study the contents of such report and lunch immediate investigation against the companies for possible prosecution and recovery. Some persons have called for the scrapping of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission; such calls are misplaced in the current scheme of things.
The relevance of the FRC in the revamping of Nigeria’s economic fortune is without doubt. The FRC should be given the much needed support to fulfill its mandate. Now is the time for the FRC and the ACAs to team up against economic saboteurs in government. The FRC and the ACAs are needed to preserve the economic fortunes of Nigeria, in this period of scarce resources. In line with their various mandates, they should identify possible areas of collaboration and develop a Memorandum of Understanding for such collaborations. The synergy between these agencies will send a strong signal to defaulting government MDAs and persons committing fraud in such offices, that it is no longer business as usual. The collaboration will also provide both technical and human capacities required to fight economic crimes in Nigeria.
- Emejuiwe is a public affairs analyst