Pervasive Corruption in Nigeria Budget Systems
A lot had been said on corruption in Nigeria. It is so pervasive that one may conclude that most Nigerians have been socialized to see corruption as a national pastime - a normal way of life. At micro household level, for instance, it is not impossible to hear of many parents aiding their wards in examination malpractices thereby contributing to this social malady. At other instances, it is not uncommon to see civil servants routinely demand for kickbacks before they do the needful. More lamentably, evidence of pervasive corruption in every aspect of our daily life could lead to a harsh conclusion that corruption is part of our society and our society is part of corruption.
In any case, the issue of corruption in our budget systems has been well documented as one critical factor hindering Nigeria’s development agenda for several decades. A lot of manipulations are associated with our budgeting process both at federal and state levels ranging from ghost projects like the so called constituency projects, frivolous line items, wasteful expenditure, inflation of contracts and illegal virement. Budget line items are often inflated by adding unnecessary wasteful expenditure that would obvious come back to private pockets. In fact, evidence shows that budget padding, which has become somehow accepted as a tradition, is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it is part of a long standing culture of impunity transcending all arms of government especially the executive and legislature. As such illegalities in our budget systems appear to have been perfected as a result of pervasive corruption in the system cut across ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
While budgeting is not limited to public/government alone as it cut across all human endeavours including individuals, organizations, and cooperate bodies etc., however, our focus here is on the public expenditure/finance management. Whether formal or informal, budget is a critical exercise of raising and allocating resources to attain the economic and social well being goals of the entity concerned. Thus, the term Budget as everybody knows “is an estimate of cost, revenue and resources over a specific period reflecting a reading of future financial condition and goals”. It must be noted that public budget is important because its enable the government to plan and manage its financial resources to support the implementation of various programmes and projects that best promote the development of the country. That’s why there is need for greater budget transparency and effective citizenry participation.
In recent years, civil society organizations (CSOs) working around budget advocacy work in Nigeria under the auspices of Citizens Wealth Platform (CWP) have documented frivolous and wasteful expenditure running into several billions of naira from annual federal budget documents. In 2016, for instance, a saving of about fifty billion naira was recommended just from six MDAs (Power, Interior, Communications, Information &Culture, Labour and Judiciary) budget out of about one trillion naira from their budgets sent to National Assembly. The purpose of annual budget will never be realized if the document is always laced with deliberate frivolities and wasteful expenditure which is just meant to grease private pockets. The little spending that ought to have been beneficial to the people in terms of provisions of much needed critical infrastructures, human capital development and pro poor social interventions often suffer from inadequate release of funds, un-completed projects and outright abandonment! Excessive allocation of funds to non priority projects is detriment to provision of critical infrastructural development and human capital development in the country.
For how long are we to live with this deception. Yet our fiscal authorities from the executive and legislature arms of government have not demonstrated sufficient will to correct these abnormalities over the years. The budget office and the MDAs involves should top deceiving us. We don’t belief they are not aware of numerous deliberate corrupt practices associated with our budget process such as inflation of project funds, line items repetition or duplications and other frivolities in budget brought before them. If they claim ignorance perhaps may be some of them do not know their onion which is not impossible since more often than not we don’t employ people on merit but nepotism and favoritism. The time for laziness and liaises faire attitude should over. They should be more effective and thorough in checking details of the budget proposals submitted for their scrutiny. If they need more hands they should not hesitate to employ vibrant Nigerians who are ready to work. If they think their workers are too aged they should be free to go and rest while younger ones are recruited to reenergize the system.
The National Assembly must ensure that duplications should be streamlined before any budget proposal is passed into law. Using different terms or phrases for the same project/ line item have become recurring event in our budget document. Budget office should stop MDAs from using different languages to describe same project. For budget credibility, there is acceptable margin of error beyond which repetitious line items or duplications would amount to deliberate inanity. This is the more reason the legislature must work collaboratively with CSOs across the country to help them track frivolous and wasteful expenditure in order to eliminate repetitious or duplication of line items, which is one of the problems identified as bedeviling our budget template. No doing so would be disastrous and amount to abetting corruption through waste of scarce public resources.
Here another experience from our analysis of 2016 Appropriation Act is illustrative, while N400 million was allocated for provision of “Water Supply Scheme in Kwara Central Senatorial District” (where the Senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, represented) with the Code no LNRB001016544 for instance; another line item with same budgetary provision and project description is given a different Code no LNRBDA09016547. Yet other line items with Code Nos.: LNRBDA09016546 and LNRBDA09016527 for “Rehabilitation and Expansion of Water Works in Kwara Central Senatorial District” and “Water Supply Scheme and Erosion Control in Kwara Central Senatorial District” were allocated N300million and N350million respectively (see, Budget Factsheet, GDAC forthcoming). These are just few instances of many deliberate duplications and repetition of line items in 2016 Budget.
Insertion of project or expenditure items without prior knowledge as to the cost of such items is also common in our budget. This amounts to price speculation without effective verification by the MDA concern. As a matter of fact the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Bureau of Public Procurement and other concerned authorities should carry out field work in this aspect to ascertain and avoid further anormalies. In fact, the reality of budget practices in Nigeria needs to be questioned. A project approved in previous year is still seen listed as new project in subsequent years despite funding commitments. What happens to the money released in the previous years? Undoubtedly, our public budgets are frequently laced with irregularities, frivolities, wasteful expenditure, including budget padding as most MDAs have perfected the manipulation of our budgeting system to suit their selfish interest. In that sense, it helped overshoot our deficit financing, it also hindered the direction of available resources to critical capital projects. All these create serious setback for our national development aspiration.
To minimize these abnormalities, there is need to expand capacity for CSOs participation in budget process. Non capacitating grassroots participation in budget analysis, tracking and monitoring of projects funded by public budget plays a lot in aiding corruption; as little effort is often made to see the reality of what have been budgeted is effectively implemented. Increased grassroots budget literacy will thus play catalytic role in reducing corruption in our budgeting process at all levels of governance in the country.
Tunde Salman and Kareem Abdulrasaq
Grassroots Development and Advocacy Centre
Asa Dam, Ilorin, Kwara State