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Budget Fiasco: President Buhari Fires DG Budget Office

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Buhari

In apparent response to the multiple scandal that attended his presentation of the 2016 budget, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s has sacked the Director-General (Budget), Mr. Yahaya Gusau.  

Buhari’s 2016 budget proposals has been widely ridiculed as riddled with errors and provisions which civic groups say may undermine his anti-graft war

In some instances, the same purchase of vehicles, computers and furniture are replicated 24 times, totaling 46.5 billion naira ($234 million), 795 million naira is set aside to update the website of one ministry, while no purpose is assigned to a 10 billion naira provision in the education ministry’s spending plan.

“The key line items you find in the budget are a disservice to the idea that this government has come to represent change,” according to Oluseun Onigbinde, partner and co-founder of BudgIT, a Nigerian group that campaigns for transparency in public spending, whose group first publicly raised the discrepancies, said in a Feb. 9 phone interview. “It would have been better that they took a very good look at every line item and ensured that it was justified.”

In a state house press statement made available to Elombah.com, Presiden Buhari said he has approved the appointment of Mr. Tijjani Mohammed Abdullahi  as the Director-General (Budget).

Mr. Abdullahi, a fellow of the Certified National Accountants of Nigeria, and a banker of repute with experience in managing public finance, will replace the current Director-General (Budget), Mr. Yahaya Gusau.  

The new Director-General (Budget) is expected to work with the Minister of Budget and National Planning to efficiently deliver on the mandates of the Budget Office of the Federation.

The statement signed by Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President, (Media & Publicity) and dated February 15, 2015 further stated President  Buhari has also approved the appointment of Mr Ben Ifeanyi Akabueze as the Special Adviser on Planning to the Minister of Budget and National Planning.

Mr Akabueze who is the immediate past Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget in Lagos State, has worked in senior management positions in Citi Bank, Fidelity Bank, United Bank for Africa, NAL Merchant Bank, Sterling Bank and BIA Consulting Limited, among others.

He is Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers; Fellow, Institute of Credit Administrators and Honorary Fellow, Chartered Institute of Bankers.

Buhari has proposed a record 6.1 trillion naira budget this year to help revive an economy reeling from the impact of the low price of oil, the source of two-thirds of government revenue. Brent crude, which compares with Nigerian oil grades, fell 0.3 percent to $33.21 as of 8:33 a.m. in London, down 42 percent this year. Additional spending will be funded through tax revenue and the deficit of 3 trillion naira through borrowing, according to the Finance Ministry. 

Former ministers and high-ranking civilian and military officials that served under the previous government are under corruption investigation. Sambo Dasuki, the former national security adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, is facing charges related to alleged misappropriation of $2.1 billion meant for weapons procurement. About $150 billion stolen by corrupt officials in the last decade is in foreign banks, Buhari said in July.

Buhari, 73, defeated Goodluck Jonathan in March in Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power. He came to office promising to curb widespread corruption and end an Islamist militant insurgency ravaging the country’s northeast. 

“The budget has become an instrument of the corruption process in this country over the last few years,” Jibrin Ibrahim of Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development said in a Feb. 12 phone interview. “If the Buhari administration doesn’t succeed in stopping that process, then the anti-corruption war will be completely futile.”

Public Outrage

The proposals for the Villa are just too ridiculous. From the N214 million proposed for a cable linking a guest house generator house to the gate with another sum of N322 million for cable to the drivers’ restroom to N619 million allocated for the installation of electrical lighting and fittings to yet another N372 million for the installation of electrical distribution boards, the whole thing is very disturbing. But that sort of tardiness and frivolous spending are everywhere in the budget where you find scandalous sums of money voted for tables, chairs, cutleries, website update etc.

To compound the situation, ministers are now promising to send to the National Assembly the “authentic figures” from their respective ministry which then means that each one of them would now be rewriting the budget already presented by the president! But such ridiculous, even if panicky, reaction is understandable: Some of the items in the 2016 budget are so shameful that you wonder how a very important document could be treated with such carelessness.

I cannot remember the last time I agreed on any issue with the Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose but I totally concur with his summation that the 2016 budget bill is a national embarrassment. A general overview reveals several issues which border on questionable purchases, curious consultancy services, seeming duplication of sub-heads, votes for projects already completed etc. The total for some of the ministries also come without the specific detailed projects. In the Ministry of Transportation, for instance, of the sum of N202 billion voted for capitals projects, only N146.67 billion was provided with detailed projects. The same goes for the ministry of agriculture and many others. = == OLUSEGUN ADENIYI

Onigbinde’s Lagos-based BudgIT was the first to draw public attention to spending proposals he described as “suspicious and wasteful” amounting to 111.32 billion naira, which includes 53.7 million naira repeated 52 times, 37.8 million naira appearing over 369 times, and a 3.9 billion naira allocation for the presidential clinic that exceeds funds designated for all 17 of the country’s teaching hospitals combined. These revelations have sparked public outrage and criticism of the government.

“There was a lot of expectation that there’s a clear departure from the past where previous budgets have been padded,” Onigbinde said. “All we have seen with this budget is that they have done even worse than the past.”

The budget controversy began last month when lawmakers alleged that the original document presented by Buhari on Dec. 22 had been substituted. The president said in a Jan. 19 letter to lawmakers that the original document contained errors. 

It was while poring through the latest submission that BudgIT found unusual entries, including 31 million naira set aside as “rent” for the presidential residence, owned by the government, according to Onigbinde.

The Budget and Planning Ministry on Feb. 11 blamed the budget errors and discrepancies on the new budgeting system as bureaucrats grappled with it.

“However, the ministry has zero tolerance for malfeasance and whenever any wrongdoing is alleged, it will be thoroughly investigated and sanctions will be applied,” Charles Dafe, the ministry’s director of information, said in the statement.

Despite the explanations, criticism of the government is mounting with civic groups questioning Buhari’s running of Africa’s biggest economy.

“The executive should recall the budget,” said Ibrahim. “They have to look back at what was submitted, identify the alterations, correct them, make sure they deal with those who did the alterations, and resubmit.”

Other analysts see in the blunders signs that the government isn’t in full control.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre. “It doesn’t seem like the government managed to put together a first budget or has any control of its expenditure framework.”

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