Each fiscal year, as the budget is passed, there are high expectations for its implementation, but it has never worked, leaving Nigerians feeling utterly short-changed due to its non-implementation. Why? Ohia Israel and Maryam Musa, reports
Early this year public outcry forced the presidency to cut to half a billion for the purchase of vehicles. The presidency had to suspend its plan to buy cars worth N565 million for the President and Vice President. That was an eye opener. In total violation of the budget, government officials secretly procure items which are not even in the budget, thereby spending unspent provision in billions of naira towards the end of the year for their own selfish ends and to justify another allocation next year, even though the provision of the previous year has not been judiciously utilized.
It would be recalled that early this year, the House of Representatives shipped in about 400 Toyota Camry cars even as their counterparts in the Senate also got over 109 Toyota Prado Jeeps 2012 models. But after all these public outcries from the Nigerian populace, investigation revealed that a lot of Government Agencies, Parastatals, Commissions and Ministries breached the Monetization Policy which was initiated by the Obasanjo administration.
The trend now is that these government officials and politicians have the penchant for the acquisition of the Toyota Prado Jeeps which the Senators use and they are now being chauffeured in either Prado or Land Cruiser jeeps. These vehicles are being bought with government money despite the fact that these cars are not reflected in the national budget. DESERT HERALD magazine gathered that there is no budget provision for these Jeeps in the 2012 budget, yet the National Assembly which has the constitutional role of ensuring strict compliance and implementation of budget is to some extend guilty of the violation that has caused infrastructure and economic woes to the country. These billions of naira meant for developmental projects are being cornered into private pockets rather than being put into what it is meant for. It is now known to Nigerians that whenever the executive and the legislature are at logger heads, they are merely fighting for what they will get at the end of the day but not what Nigerians will benefit from their leadership and representation.
A former senator confided in this reporter said there is a price tag for most of the bills passed by National Assembly (NASS) and those budgets for MDAs are thoroughly being negotiated between the MDAs and NASS before they are considered for approval. In most cases, the former senator revealed, dedicated amount mostly running into billions are added into MDAs budgets under agreement for NASS Committees as a reward of passing such budgets into law. By implication DESERT HERALD magazine gathered, the process of budget allocation and its surrounding politics have become a conduit pipe and an annual ritual for the political establishment both in the executive and the legislature to milk as much as possible from government coffers leaving the poor, the electorate pauperized with alarming decay of infrastructures, joblessness and crime.
The spending spree has led to a competition of sort within the MDAs with almost all the ministries reported to have bought a number of Prado Jeeps or Land Cruisers in the last eight to nine months. For instance this magazine found out that in most of the ministries it has become a common thing that even the Special Advisers to the Ministers are assigned Prado Jeeps.
The implication of this is that these officials either turn monies meant for other projects – possibly developmental ones – for the unauthorized vehicles; or cornered part of their internally generated revenues to acquire the cars.
According to a lawmaker: “Under the scheme that costs several billions over the last few years, offices would often not state their plan to procure cars, perceived as amongst the most inflammatory budget items but they will always take delivery of exotic vehicles. Where such proposals are ever tabled for National Assembly approval, and rejected, officials still divert unallocated funds to secure them.
“Offices involved in this brazen mismanagement of public funds usually defy a federal law punishing unbudgeted expenditure with a three-year jail term and a N100, 000 fine and a lesser penalty of one year or N50, 000 fine, where the offender merely transferred monies to other approved subheads”, he said.
But according to the lawmakers even such projects are detected by the National Assembly during oversight, the answers we get from the ministers or directors involved, is this: “Oh we had one grant like that” or “We have other sources of funding” or “It was a gift.” But the nagging question many concerned citizens are asking is that why did the NASS or such Committees in NASS despite in several occasions identifying such gross violation of the budget woefully failing to exercise their constitutional powers or to even sanction such MDAs in future or to even withheld any future approval of their budget proposal until anomalies are corrected and order restored. The former senator told this magazine that the only reason why his former colleagues and including him are failing is because of their own selfish interests. He said the way things are at the moment, sanity will never be restored in the country because the president who supposed to sanitize the system of budget process and implementation is the “number one violator and that the country may never know President Jonathan’s crime against the people; his many acts of encouraging corruption and supporting capitalists associates, cronies and friends to make billions to the detriment of the future of young Nigerians until probably when he (President Jonathan) is out of power when information about his alleged excesses will flow to the public free from the other side of the coin”.
An insight into this shoddy deal shows that the Ministers and DGs all bend the rule in order to acquire these cars, as this magazine learnt that only the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, Works, Agriculture, Trade and Investments, Culture and Environment, and Health got endorsement for cars. Unfortunately, such cars are not being used for the reason which it was approved for, for example, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, DESERT HERALD magazine gathered, got N50m, N42m, N88m and N30 million car votes, cars which were to be used for the country’s embassies in Pretoria, South Africa, Singapore, Lisbon in Portugal and London in England.
In the 2011 budget, the Foreign Affairs got an approval of 10 Toyota Hilux pickup and 10 Ford Explorers, while the Ministry of Works had an approval for 10 Hilux project pickups, plants, equipment’s, towing vans, and excavators. However there has not been any office that has more Prado Jeeps than the Works Ministry. Checks by this reporter show that there are Jeeps with these Vehicle plate numbers; FG-517 F20, FG-507 F20 and 20A 61 FG, marked to the ministry.
The University of Abuja for instance, has only received funding for the building of intensive care, accident and emergency unit and purchase of medical equipment including endoscopy, but those vital units were only recently approved despite its importance to many the management of the hospital recently acquired Prado with the new number plate 12Q 01 FG. Whereas the Tertiary Education Tax Fund, TETFUND that was not given any approval for cars and any other expenses that are capital in nature, the agency has in its kitty a 2012 Prado, numbered FG 02A H07. However, a careful scrutiny shows that these funds are being drawn under the guise of phony and vague subheads that encourage unsuitable expenditure.
At the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) the Director General is also using a Prado 2012 which was bought with its new number plate 2103FG, even as the parastatal didn’t get such approval either for 2012 or 2011. According to its budget approval for 2012 and 2011, it only got an approval for the purchase of navigational equipment’s – N2.09 billion for 2012, and N3.24billion for 2011. “So how can we reconcile all these?”, a staff of the agency queried during an interview with this reporter in Abuja last week.
The Ministry of Agriculture was not left out of the wanton abuse of the budget and its gross violation as its the 39 research institutes under the ministry are annually entitled to hundreds of millions of naira earmarked for so called “research and development” that has failed to improve the backwardness of the country in agricultural production. For instance, the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), like many others, secured N400 million from this year’s budget. While the total approved sum in the budget was meant for research and development of value chains, significant part of the money DESERT HERALD magazine gathered was said to have been expended on bogus claims such as renovations, journals, infrastructural upgrade and certain food security advocacy summit also took the remaining money with no visible result to justify another allocation for 2013. And while the ARCN council never got an approval for cars but it recently commissioned a new 2012 Prado with a new plate number for the head office, ARCN FG 21.
In the same vein, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) DESERT HERALD magazine can reveal has no votes for cars in the 2012 budget, but findings by this reporter shows that it has the latest model of Kia Optima, with registration number X02 09FG in its kitty.
Over the years, as reported in most of our reports there has not been any issue or subject putting the executive against the National Assembly as the budget. It is of note that the lawmakers have always frequently suspected that appropriations proposed to motivate growth and build infrastructures are annually diverted by the MDAs who unilaterally decide what to implement. The violation of the budget has worsen over the years as the MDAs continued to violate and divert budget provisions for other unapproved purchases with impunity believing that since the NASS members are equally beneficiaries of the fraud they would always get away with it like in previous years.
DESERT HERALD magazine also gathered that even though Senate President David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal have criticized the executive for failure to implement previous budget with emphasis on the 2012 budget during the formal presentation of the 2013 budget to the NASS, inside sources confided in this paper that already pressure and lobby groups within the executive were selected and assigned to negotiate the interest of the NASS members so as not the ‘unduly’ temper with Ngozi Okonja-Iweala’s budget.
While some NASS members are truly concerned about the public perception and the bad image of the NASS before the Nigerian public and the failure of previous budgets to impact on the lives of Nigeria’s which was attributed to the current security challenges and joblessness and vowed to thoroughly examine the provisions of the 2013 budget before considering its passage or otherwise, some of the NASS members are already willing tools working for the presidency and have already started sabotaging the commitment and resolve of some their colleagues to not only pass a budget that will reflect the yearnings and aspirations of Nigeria’s, but monitor its full implementation by the executive whom are obviously benefitting more from the fraud associated with manipulations of the budget, non-implementation and inflation of contract provisions.
The Speaker recently said that; “The entire exercise has so ridiculed the budgeting system, turning it to mere “ritual” than an actual economic process with targeted reliefs. The Appropriation Act is observed more in breach than execution.” Whether the speaker and his colleagues at the lower chamber are truly determine to change the failure of previous budgets since 1999 when Chief Obasanjo was elected in view of their assurances remains to be seen.
Furthermore, the Bureau of Public Procurement’s contract award had listed a quite number of contracts in MDAs for 2007, 2008 and 2009, matching implemented projects against budgetary proposals. This year’s budget revealed that unbudgeted subheads received allocations in some offices; and many centered on relatively less critical subheads often cited as a conduit for draining public funds.
For instance, in 2009 the Ministry of Petroleum spent far into an extra billion naira not stated in its budget, according to the procurement records. While contracts for the expansion of several gas pipeline and other technical needs were duly awarded as stated in the budget, others like “project workshops”, “sensitization workshops”, found nowhere in the budget but was part of the ministry’s questionable expenditure.
Two of the three project workshops and training went to the ministry’s headquarters. One of them was to the tune of N1.04 billion, the other N143 million. A curious Implementation of Workshop and Sensitization Retreat programme in Public Procurement Act was also awarded for N39 million in addition to a number of other Workshops and sensitizations totaling nearly N200 million. None of these work sops were reflected in the budget.
DESERT HERALD learnt that federal ministries are the worst culprits in these deals, as for instance almost all the Ministers drive in Prados and Land Cruisers, even as none of the ministries has such exotic cars approved for it either in the 2012 or 2011 budgets with a number of expenditures that did not reflect in either the 2010, 2011 or 2012 budgets.
The trend has continued unabated as officials continue to spend public funds with reckless abandon in their penchant for exotic cars even when the monetization policy is in vogue as these cars are being bought with allowances paid up front.
If the search is narrowed from “vehicles approvals”, to “Prado or Land Cruiser approvals” in the entire budget this year, only two offices out of hundreds, would be spared an indictment. A break down shows that it is only the Librarian Council of Nigeria which listed the Prado for N10 million and the National Eye Centre listed the Land Cruiser for N16.5 million. In the case of utility vehicles only twelve offices got approvals, these approvals are given to the following; National Obstetric Fistula, FMC Taraba, FMC Birnin Kebbi, FMC Yola, Code of Conduct Bureau, Federal Government College Okigwe, and Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria.
Others include, the Community Health Practitioners Registration Council, National Gallery of Arts, London and Pretoria Embassies, University of Maiduguri, Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Ibadan, National Orthopedic Hospital Lagos. All in all, thirty-seven offices were given car approvals for buses, Hilux for projects, ambulances, vans, and ranger patrol vehicles.
Even though the annual politics of budget processes and passage has since begun with Mr. David Mark and Tambuwal both shifting the blame of non-compliance to the executive arm under Mr. Jonathan, the nation is anxiously waiting for the drama that will unfold during the debate and process of its passage and whether or not the president who seems very unwilling to do what the NASS wants will ascent to the final draft of the budget from NASS.
It is on record that the NASS has failed to ensure the implementation of previous budgets, even though they have the constitutional powers to challenge the executive or even to impeach the president on such matters of national interest, this is obviously because members are benefitting from the budgets failure to improve the lives of Nigerians. A lot of people interviewed by this reporter agreed that if members of the NASS are indeed not beneficiaries of the brazen corruption associated with lack of implementing the budgets over the years must not only monitor the full implementation of the 2013 budget and should use their constitutional powers to force the president to perform by way of sanctioning any MDA that fails to meet to expectations of the electorate.