The Sunday edition of several national newspapers carried a report talking about a certain ”budget mafia” responsible for the unbelievably high number of excesses, duplication and outrageous sums allocated in the 2016 budget proposal submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly.
The 2016 budget, it turned out, was not at all different from the terrible budgets of the past as several independent and partisan analyses have shown. In fact, it was even worse in many aspects, and President Buhari had to correct some of its provisions in a badly managed move which first involved sneaking in a new copy. Despite the corrections, the proposed budget remains a terrible document, and that is a blow for a federal government which likes to pride itself as a government of change which presented what President Buhari called ”a budget of change.”
The reports claim that the fault for this very bad budget lies with some civil servants who smuggled in the provisions that have become problematic. Those are the people being described as the “budget mafia”.
What was the story about? One report stated that “Some top officials of the federal government are about to lose their jobs for allegedly attempting to inflate the 2016 budget by over N1.7trillion. The unnamed officials are said to have embarrassed the Presidency by smuggling into the budget proposals such items as vote for Aso Rock Clinic and some communication equipment. Most of those affected belong to the “Budget Mafia” in the civil service, which has been uncovered by the presidency.”
The report also stated that the list of all culprits was being compiled following a directive by President Buhari.
It is interesting that the ”budget mafia” is being blamed for the Aso Rock clinic allocation which was earlier defended by the presidency in a statement by Garba Shehu, the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity.
Another report quoted ‘sources’ who said the “inclusion of many of the provisions that had drawn the ire of the public managed to sail through the budget that has over 6000 items because supervision was made even more difficult with the uncooperative attitude of the senior bureaucrats and their subordinates who were themselves expected to be involved in the supervisory process.”
Each of these reports, and probably a few others were fed from the same talking points; memo by most likely the same source in a move to shift the responsibility for a poor budget document.
Question: How come the ministers and other officials of the executive arm signed off on a budget document that contained fraudulent provisions? Did the mafia bypass the ministers and submit the document straight to the President, who in turn passed it on to the National Assembly? Remember that the federal cabinet met to look at and adopt the budget collectively after compilation; how come no red flags were seen? And after the initial uproar which led to the president effecting some superficial corrections, why didn’t they sit with a comb and locate all the other pork?
The president insisted even during his budget speech, just as vice president Yemi Osinbajo had been saying for months before then, that a zero-based budgeting system was adopted. He did not say then that it was being frustrated. In fact Buhari hailed the budget, saying that as a result of zero-based budgeting, “resources are aligned with government’s priorities and allocated efficiently.”
The end product however, as Nigerians have seen, was a clear failure in efficiency and the “budget mafia” story is an attempt at damage control.
The blame for the disappointing “change” budget, belongs squarely to President Muhammadu Buhari who failed to appoint ministers early, and gave them little or no time to do their jobs. Besides, Nigerians have been complaining about provisions of the budget since early January. Both the president’s spokesman and the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, have defended it wholly. In fact, Mohammed said those complaining are trying to divert attention from the war against corruption.
Then all of a sudden, we hear news that a list of those in the so-called budget mafia are being compiled and they may get the sack. And this is February, over a month since the uproar started. Ah, spin-masters, you missed with this one.
This is not to say that the source who said that “Bureaucratic resistance and entrenched systemic corrupt practices dogged every move of the presidency to produce proposals reflecting financial prudence and frugality, during the preparation of the 2016 Budget now before the National Assembly” was telling a complete lie though. But for goodness sake, aren’t these the type of battles this government promised to fight and win? And if the government says it has discovered that a mafia jacked up figures amounting to hundreds of billions, why not completely withdraw the budget and send a fresh, more responsible draft?
The great thing about this move to spin the news and the truth is that members of the National Assembly must have also read the stories and have now noted the admission of guilt by the executive over the padded budget. Lawmakers now need to look at the budget with a microscope in one hand and a knife in the other. Cut, cut, cut. Kill the pork. Save the budget of change.