MDAS AND PADDED BUDGETS
There should be adequate consequences for proven perpetrators of the crime
Financial ‘padding’ is increasingly becoming part of the nation’s budgeting system. At a recent interactive session with the Senate Committee on Finance on the 2022-2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) accused ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government of fiddling with the 2021 and 2022 budgets to the tune of N400 billion by duplicating projects. “From our own end, detection of such projects is done by verifying their locations and names, upon which we tell the appropriate authorities not to release wrongly budgeted monies,” said ICPC chairman, Bolaji Owasanoye.
While we commend the ICPC for this recent discovery, it is important to note that this was not the first time that the commission would be accusing MDAs of involvement in fraudulent acts. At one of its recent summits, ICPC disclosed that it had uncovered gross abuse of personnel budget and inflation as well as padding of nominal role by some MDAs. According to Owasanoye, in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the balances recorded for personnel were “wrongfully utilised by MDAs for other purposes due to lack of pro activity by late enforcement and related agencies. That sum amounted to N18.39 billion.”
Indeed, the corruption and lack of accountability in many of the agencies of government are mindboggling. They inflate contracts, fail to remit tax, divert pension and National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) deductions, and aggravate the sufferings of many Nigerians. The financial impropriety in several of the MDAs has led to loss of huge revenues running into trillions of naira. Owasanoye also revealed that N2.67 billion meant for the school feeding programme in some federal government colleges during the COVID-19 lockdown ended up in the pockets of top officials of MDAs. Another N2.5 billion was reportedly misappropriated by a senior civil servant in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and his cronies.
These allegations are not coming only from the ICPC. In 2017, the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF) gave a damning report on the financial records of the MDAs. The audit report showed that there were deficiencies in the processes for consolidating the balances of MDAs into one economic entity. In addition, 160 government agencies defaulted in the submission of audited accounts for 2015, 2016 and 2017, while some others had never bothered to submit any financial statements since inception. Some agencies had consistently breached the extant laws, guidelines and regulations in remission of money to the Treasury Single Account (TSA). Indeed, the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) revealed in its 2017 report that the MDAs defrauded the country of over N1trillion in seven years. Perhaps to crown the impunity, the former Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, was himself fingered, and indeed recently arraigned over N109 billion charges.
A leading professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a recent report titled “Impact of Corruption on Nigeria’s Economy” stated that failure to stem corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37 per cent of Gross Domestic Products by 2030. The questions therefore persist: Why is it so difficult to closely monitor the operations of the MDAs, and seal the sources of corrupt practices which have undermined economic growth, and causing a steady decline in the availability and quality of essential public services? Why is it that the National Assembly has habitually failed to vet projects properly? And why is a government that came to fight corruption be so ironically enmeshed in it?
If the fight against corruption in the MDAs will take the nation anywhere, then there is need to ensure adequate consequences for the proven perpetrators of the crime. Besides, we need to invest in the cultivation of enlightened values by ensuring that those who go into public service are content with their legitimate wages.