Nigeria in quagmire over budget sleaze
By Tajudeen Adigun
Monday, April 09,  2012

Violation of legislation is a punishable offence. Violation of law, in a sane society, does not go unpunished. Nobody, whatever may be his/her status, not above the law. This is why it is asserted that law is no respecter of any body.
If a person is charged with a crime in a court and found culpable, the convict is either jailed or fined. There, however, is an exemption. As any other legislation, Appropriation Act (federal) or Appropriation law (state) is a legislation, a la, that must be obeyed.

The difference between Appropriation Law and other legislation, perhaps, is that no sanction is imposed for its violation. In Nigeria Appropriation, law has no clause (s) for punishing failure, deliberate or otherwise, to comply with and observe its provisions to the letter. It is, therefore, not a surprise that it is violated with impunity as the absence of punishment in the its provision, could be said to have rendered Appropriation Act impotent.

Its impotence makes the president and governors to trample on it without fear of adverse consequences. They cannot be charged with a failure to execute the law. That is why the country is dogged with litany of poorly executed budgets. Records of 30, 40 and 50 percent execution were common before 2011 that recorded 85 percent execution. Thus, the people are denied projects, programmes and services appropriated for in the budgets to improve their standard of living and make Nigeria a better place to live.

Mostly, at the end of the budget year, the unspent fund is expected to be returned to the treasury. That, of course, is usually is not the case. Remember the embezzment of unspent fund scandal that hit the Federal Ministry of Health when Iyabo Obasanjo was the chairman of Senate Committee on Health. The permanent secretary in the ministry lost her job to the sleaze.

Every year, Nigeria loses billion of Naira to the pockets of political offices holders and civil servants. Those feeding fat on the unspent funds in different ministries have neither scruples nor qualms. They regard the unearned income as spoils of office. In honesty, the beneficiaries will go to any length, physical and spiritual, to ensure that 100 percent budget execution is never attained.

The lower the percentage of budget execution, the bigger the share that will go to their purses and pockets as such slush money may sometimes not be taken to banks. Late presentation of budget by the President or governor in the National Assembly or the state Houses of Assembly as the case may be is literally a physical obstacle to the attainment of 100 per cent execution of budget, whether at state or federal level.

The horse-trading in the Legislature is another contributory factor. Due process which is not mostly observed by the government has not been left out of the insurmountable contributory factors to low scale of budget execution.
Most lawmakers regard passing of the Appropriation Bill as an opportunity to have their undue cut from the national cake. They are not unlikely to make substantial amount from tips ministers will use to induce them to approve their allocation without using legislative scalpel on it. A Senate ex-president, Adolphous Nwabara, was impeached for alleged collection of tips to pass the budget in the past.

To attract big tips for passing the budgets of different ministries and parastatals, the legislators may deliberately delay debate either at full house or at committee stage as a tactic to arm-twist ministers and put subtle pressure on them to grease the palms of the legislators. At the end of every budget year, Nigerians, to their dismay, find out that the projects, programmes and services appropriated for were not executed or served as announced and presented by either the President or governor. In a military government that does not brook separation of power, budget presentation was a sheer ritual for only the ears of the people. There was no supervisory chamber, the Legislature, to monitor or supervise budget execution. The executive and legislative functions were carried out by the military head of state or governor

Now, the legislators, because of their personal benefits and, maybe dubious party loyalty, are unashamedly contributing to poor execution of budget by not calling to question the lapses which are huge cost to the public and obstacles to development. The unlikelihood of public tribunal trial of those responsible for this sordid state of affairs is a matter of concern for the patriots

Year in, year out, the wheels of fraud through low level of budget execution rolls. There is no indication of a change or willingness to make the poor execution of budget a thing of the past as there is no fear of political penalty for such a crime against the electorate. No political party either at federal or state level has lost election based on performance and poor execution of budget. Every year, the Federal Government earmarks allocation in the budget for the rehabilitation of Benin-Shagamu Expressway. Today, what is the state of the road?

When Chief Tony Anineh was the Minister of Works, he enlightened members of the public on the bureaucracy of budget and release of fund to execute projects. He said, usually, the amount appropriated for a project is not the same with the amount released for the job. He made the clarification in defence of N360 billion earmarked for the rehabilitation of all federal roads in the country that did not show any physical proof that such a huge amount had been spent on them. Nobody has faulted him on it.

Poor execution of budget is indirectly responsible for the low level of petroleum products supply in the country. There is no gainsaying that the combined capacity of the four local refineries cannot satisfy the demand at home for bleached products. Products are imported to supplement the output at home. Statistical data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) attest to the claim. The inability of the refineries to produce at their full capacity, however, is not unconnected with the absence of maintenance despite annual allocation for the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that is carried out at the pleasure of contractors.

Adigun is on the staff of The Sun

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