THE PUNCH – Nigerian leaders have cultivated the fraudulent culture of extra-budgetary spending. The latest atrocity is embodied in a report of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, detailing how the Federal Government incurred an illegal expenditure of N4.17 trillion between 2004 and 2012. The period spanned the tenure of three presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo; the late Umaru Yar’Adua; and the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. With none of them ever brought to book for this act, the unconstitutional practice continues to fester.
In a sad trajectory, the National Assembly that has the oversight function to check the wrong practice has also failed to discharge its duties. An effective deterrent by the parliament, in the form of not approving annual budgets or even taking the drastic step of impeaching those culpable, would have sent a strong signal to the errant Presidents. Instead of advancing noble ideals, legislators are only interested in feathering their own nests by regularly increasing their unjustifiably high remuneration.
Through what is called the Service Wide Vote, the government has unlawfully expended N2.27 trillion more than the N1.8 trillion approved by the National Assembly for the nine years. The SWV is earmarked for emergencies that are not covered by Appropriation Act in a financial year. Of significance is the committee’s observation. “Contrary to … using the vote for emergencies, after its examination of the Auditor-General’s reports on the accounts of MDAs, the committee discovered indiscriminate use of the vote in funding government projects and programmes that should otherwise have been provided for in the annual budget, as such expenditure were never contingent in nature,” the report said.
This is irresponsible. This time, the lawmakers must get to the root of the matter by compelling the affected MDAs to account for the funds. This is the only way to stop officials of this government and its successors from engaging in this corrupt act. The Executive must be made to account for its frivolity in this matter. While it is understandable to use the SWV to address the militancy in the Niger Delta region and anti-terror war in the North-East, it is nauseating that the SWV was abused to the tune of N1.2 billion during the period just to sponsor public officials overseas to seek medical attention.
It is equally disgusting that the SWV was abused to cater for Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, who was on exile in Nigeria. Taylor’s upkeep in one year reportedly gulped N250 million. “The period 2007 to 2012 witnessed astronomical increases in SWV releases to MDAs. It is evident that releases to the MDAs from the SWV during the period ranged from 68.88 per cent to 344.4 per cent of recurrent allocations to the affected MDAs,” the report added. This is unpardonable. The practice of spending public money as if there are no other pressing needs in the country must stop.
Last October, the United States government (executive) was forced to observe a partial shutdown of its activities after the US Congress failed to pass the bill authorising the government to spend any money. While the rancorous incident lasted (October 1 to 16), mostly on hardened party lines, President Barack Obama did not dare spend a cent outside of budgetary provisions until he eventually worked out a deal with opposition lawmakers. Not so in Nigeria where presidents brazenly spend public funds without approval or censure.
Apart from the SWV abuse, there are other serious cases of misapplication of public funds. A glaring instance, as an investigation early this year by the Senate discovered, is the abuse of Special Funds, violated to the tune of N1 trillion within 10 years. The special funds include the Ecological Fund, the Stabilisation Fund, and the Natural Resources Development Account, which are routinely diverted for purposes other than what they are legally meant. Also, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund is being diverted to areas other than its original purpose, such as in building almajiri schools.
Government must stop violating basic constitutional provisions. The probe in the parliament must go beyond the usual din of investigation without a follow-up action. The labour movement, civil rights organisations, NGOs and the Nigerian people must be united in confronting this recklessness. The government must be made accountable and made to act within the confines of the law.
Source: Radio Biafra.