N400bn budget padding? Not again!

The revelation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) that the N13.59 trillion 2021 budget was padded by the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with N300 billion worth of duplicated projects is reprehensible and condemnable.

The anti-corruption agency also disclosed that another N100 billion worth of duplicated projects were inserted into the N17.12 trillion 2022 budget by some MDAs aside N49.9 billion tracked as salary for ghost workers between January and June this year.

The startling revelations on the intercepted corrupt plans by the affected MDAs were made by ICPC Chairman Professor Bolaji Owasanoye during an interface with the Senate Committee on Finance last week. He said the N300 billion duplicated projects in the 2021 budget and N100 billion in the 2022 budget were tracked through thorough scrutinisation carried out on approved projects for the various MDAs.

“N300 billion would have been wasted by the federal government on duplicated projects inserted into the 2021 budget and N100 billion for same purpose in the current fiscal year if not tracked and intercepted by ICPC. The same preemptive move saved the country from spending N49.9billion for salaries of ghost workers put on fictitious pay roll by the fraudulent MDAs between January and June this year.

“Names of MDAs involved in projects duplications running into intercepted billions of naira and fictitious pay rolls, are available and will be forwarded to the committee. The good thing about the preemptive moves made by us is that monies for the fraudulent acts were prevented from being released to the affected MDAs and it is gratifying that the Finance Ministry and Accountant General Office cooperated with us,” he said.

The ICPC chairman advised relevant committees of the National Assembly to be on the lookout for such projects duplication in the proposed N19.76 trillion 2023 budget. He said the commission detects such projects by verifying their locations and names, upon which it tells the appropriate authorities not to release wrongly budgeted monies for them.

Impressed by the submission, the committee through its chairman, Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola (APC Lagos West), said the N1.8 billion operational cost of the agency would be increased. “This committee is impressed by proactive ways your commission is adopting in the fight against corruption. Your submissions clearly show that all hope is not lost for our dear country as far as fighting corruption is concerned.”

It is instructive that ICPC had in 2019 uncovered gross abuse of personnel budget and inflation as well as padding of nominal role by some MDAs amounting to N18.62 billion. The chairman of the anti-corruption agency made the disclosure during a National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector and presentation of integrity awards, organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in collaboration with the commission in Abuja.

He said the discovery of the scam followed the launching of the commission System Study and Review of MDA Practices involving over 300 MDAs. “As at the time we went to press we had covered about 300 MDAs and the amount inflated was about N12 billion.

“As of today your Excellency we have discovered additional N6b making a total of N18.624b restrained by ICPC. The exercise is still ongoing but we can confidently report that culprit MDAs are mostly academic and health institutions.

“Let me note with regret sir that 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 N18.39b.’’

In light of these findings, the ICPC chairman stressed the need for full implementation of the presidential directive that MDAs not on IPPIS should not be paid as the commission’s review had shown that most of the guilty MDAS were not on IPPIS.

“In a similar vein, we found that some MDAs spent N9.2 billion of capital funds on overhead related items contrary to extant financial regulations. We found to our surprise that some MDAs fail to remit tax and divert pension and NHIS deductions for unrelated payments thus aggravating the sufferings of other Nigerians.

“Some MDAs abused the e-payment policy of government thus making payments through staff accounts instead of to actual beneficiaries. Most egregious in the current cycle of review is the Federal Ministry of Water Resources where N3.3 billion was paid out in about a month through the accounts of staff.’’

The chairman expressed the hope that the conversation at the two-day summit would lead to concrete suggestions towards reducing these “anomalous practices and processes that fuel corruption and undermine the development aspirations of the country’’.

We are miffed that MDAs could still manipulate and circumvent policies formulated and being implemented by the President Muhammadu Buhari government to check public sector corruption. It is quite unfortunate that the budget padding monster is rearing its ugly head again in 2022 after the 2019 scam was thought to have been decisively dealt with.

While commending the ICPC for the exceptional feat, we urge the relevant security agencies to swing into action by apprehending and prosecuting all the culprits involved in the current budget padding scam. Budget padding is a heinous economic and financial crime that should not be swept under the carpet.