Ever since the details of the 2012 budget were released, Nigerians have been treated to a lot of comedy and melodrama regarding the budget items. Besides the perennial lop-sidedness of our budgets with regard to the capital expenditure being less than the recurrent expenditure, a closer look has revealed that even some of the capital expenditure items are either bogus or grossly inflated.
For weeks, the outcry was about the amount of about N1bn allocated to the Presidency for the feeding of the families of the President and the Vice-President, in addition to N957m for miscellaneous expenses and a combined N466m for refreshment, honoraria and sitting allowances. This is just a few of the items from the full budget details, as it is filled with lot of spurious projected expenses. The full budget can be downloaded from www.budget.com.ng.
These inflations and crazy projects are not limited to the Presidency alone, but extend to almost every ministry, department and agency of the Federal Government. Almost daily since the start of this year, we have been treated with headlines screaming out the extravagance of our government, either through inflated projects or even projects whose mere existence are puzzling. It has ranged from the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC’s) budgeting N1.5bn to ‘fumigate’ their 15-storey headquarters in Port-Harcourt, to the National Sports Commission’s N1.2million to open or ‘maintain’ a Facebook account. This is not to even mention that MDAs gradually smuggled in an extra N1trillion worth of projects, on top of the existing N4.7trillion overall budget.
This gives us an insight into how our system allows for corruption to take place within the government. When there are such inflated or vague allocations in our budget, it makes it quite easy for public officials to pocket it and claim that the said projects have been executed or said items purchased. This is even made worse by the fact that the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, which audits the entire Federal Government, is under-funded with only N300m allocation. How then can they have oversight over government spending and detect irregularities and fraud?
I have always believed that the first step to preventing corruption in our government is to close loopholes through which public funds disappear. We have to start by making sure government funds are spent on the barest necessities. Each expenditure must be justified by need and potential benefits, and it must be paid for competitively. The illusion that governments cannot go broke, and as such, can afford to continue to dish out money for projects like a lottery has to stop. It only provides the incentive for corruption. I cannot even begin to imagine the impact the monies allocated for this white-elephant and inflated projects would have if they are re-directed towards necessary social services such as education and health, or even towards infrastructure such as roads and power systems.
Even more, we have to strengthen the oversight functions of the necessary bodies. I have to commend the various Senate committees for painstakingly going through the budget proposals of the MDAs under their purview and speaking out against some of the ridiculous intended projects. But it must not stop there: they must also make sure that each of these projects is justified not just in terms of cost, but also in terms of necessity.
Also, the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation must be sufficiently empowered in terms of funding and personnel to be able to speedily and comprehensively audit the accounts of the entire Federal Government.
We also have to thank the existence of the Freedom of Information Act, which has made every detail of the budget available in a public domain, and has empowered every citizen to have knowledge of how our money is spent. We must not be silent with these facts, but must make our discomfort with this spending known. Let us apply pressure in the right places.
If we desire to stop and prevent corruption, we must make sure this system is not flawed as to allow stealing of public funds easy and even encouraging.
This budget, as it is presently, must not pass!