Bloomberg: Budget Fraud Undermines Buhari’s Graft War

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[caption id="attachment_5266" align="alignnone" width="660"]President Muhammadu Buhari[/caption]

Errors and fraudulent provisions in the 2016 budget proposal of President Muhammadu Buhari may undermine his anti-graft war, Bloomberg has warned.
The influential financial and economy magazine quoting civil society advocates and other critical stakeholders gave thumbs down to the budget which have being ridiculed by the National Assembly and majority of Nigerians.

Mr. Oluseun Onigbinde, partner and co-founder of BudgIT, a Nigerian group that campaigns for transparency in public spending, revealed that the same purchase of vehicles, computers and furniture are replicated 24 times, totaling N46.5 billion ($234 million), N795 million is set aside to update the website of one ministry, while no purpose is assigned to a N10 billion provision in the education ministry’s spending plan.~

“The key line items you find in the budget are a disservice to the idea that this government has come to represent change,” Onigbinde, whose group first publicly raised the discrepancies,” said.

“It would have been better that they took a very good look at every line item and ensured that it was justified.”

Buhari has proposed a record N6.1 trillion budget this year to help revive an economy reeling from the impact of the low price of oil, the source of two-thirds of government revenue. Additional spending will be funded through tax revenue and the deficit of 3 trillion naira through borrowing, according to the Finance Ministry.

The government was the first to detect initial errors in the budget and Buhari wrote to lawmakers to correct them and welcomes further criticisms, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for Buhari, said by phone on Feb. 11.

“If they know the one who padded the budget, they should announce that to the government,” Shehu said. “Anyone disagreeing with the budget is welcome to say their views it is the only way we can make the country better.”

“The budget has become an instrument of the corruption process in this country over the last few years,” Jibrin Ibrahim of Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, said in a Feb. 12 phone interview. “If the Buhari administration doesn’t succeed in stopping that process, then the anti-corruption war will be completely futile.”

Africa’s largest oil producer came 136th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s 2015 world index of countries perceived as least corrupt.
Public Outrage

Onigbinde’s Lagos-based BudgIT was the first to draw public attention to spending proposals he described as “suspicious and wasteful” amounting to N111.32 billion, which includes N53.7 million repeated 52 times, N37.8 million appearing over 369 times, and a N3.9 billion allocation for the presidential clinic that exceeds funds designated for all 17 of the country’s teaching hospitals combined.

These revelations have sparked public outrage and criticism of the government.

“There was a lot of expectation that there’s a clear departure from the past where previous budgets have been padded,” Onigbinde said. “All we have seen with this budget is that they have done even worse than the past.”

It was while poring through the latest submission that BudgIT found unusual entries, including N31 million naira set aside as “rent” for the presidential residence, owned by the government, according to Onigbinde.

“The executive should recall the budget,” said Ibrahim. “They have to look back at what was submitted, identify the alterations, correct them, make sure they deal with those who did the alterations, and resubmit.”

Other analysts see in the blunders signs that the government isn’t in full control.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre. “It doesn’t seem like the government managed to put together a first budget or has any control of its expenditure framework.”