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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.


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