Sunday, 7 February 2016

Buhari confronts civil service mafia

The Federal Government would soon sanction some top government officials for what a source within the presidency described as an “attempt to sabotage efforts aimed at making the 2016 Budget a people-oriented budget”.The source, who pleaded
anonymity, spoke to journalists in Abuja on Saturday during an off-the-record briefing.

The source described the officials as “the budget mafia” and claimed they were responsible for some of the controversial provisions in the budget proposal currently before the National Assembly.

He claimed that the officials’ aim was to frustrate all the “innovations” introduced into the preparation of the budget by the present administration for their own selfish interests.

Giving specific examples, the source said after learning that the Presidency was considering a huge budget of possibly N8trn in order to significantly increase capital expenditure, the budget mafia brought a proposal of N9.7trn for overhead and capital spending without including personnel spending.

He said of the proposed N9.7trn, the bureaucrats planned to spend N3trn on overhead alone.

He added that not comfortable with the arrangement, the Presidency eventually slashed the proposed N3trn to N163bn. The figure is by eight percent lower than the N177bn in the 2015 budget.

“These bureaucrats also proposed to spend N2.1trn on personnel for the 2016 estimates compared to about N1.8trn in the 2015 budget. But the Presidency also cut this down to N1.7trnn in the final estimates sent to the legislature.

“The situation and its fallout were so bad that it provoked the annoyance of the President who nonetheless kept his cool buying time so as to meet the target date for the presentation of the budget in line with extant laws and regulations governing the budget process,” he said.

He added that the officials also attempted to sabotage the zero-based budgeting introduced by the current administration because it would not serve their selfish interests.

The source said top civil servants involved in the resistance would soon be shown the way out.

He explained further, “Zero-based budgeting proceeds on the basis of justifying need and costs rather than the annually incremental approach that transfers expenses from previous budgets with added upward reviews.

“The old approach having been mastered by bureaucrats and past public officials including former ministers often leads to several acts of corruption both by civil servants and political appointees.

“The Presidency had been planning on the adoption of the Zero-Based Budget with top officials from the then Budget Office and theNational Planning Commission, few months after taking over mid-year 2015. Yet, when both agencies were merged into the new Ministry of Budget and National Planning and a minister, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma was assigned to the ministry, the civil servants simply refused to brief the minister on the Zero-Based Budget and efforts already made.

“For weeks after the minister was sworn in, the bureaucrats kept planning on the old budget model, stalling the decision to use the Zero-Based Budget until the new minister found out from the Presidency. This stalling led to the waste of valuable time and sources. The bureaucrats had calculated that once time becomes of essence, the Presidency would be forced to abandon the Zero-Based Budget.

“However, the Presidency regrouped the budget planning efforts around the concept of Zero-Based Budget by early December when the Budget Minister, now aware of the Zero-Based Budget, took control and leadership of the process.”

He added that even after that, some of the bureaucrats did not cooperate, therefore taking longer than required time to come back with revisions to their estimates that were recommended and ratified by the Presidency.

In the process, according to him, many of the provisions already marked down for revision simply got snuck in, pushing the Presidency in the defensive in the backlash in the public arena.

The official explained further that the inclusion of many of the provisions that had drawn the ire of the public managed to sail through the budget because supervision was made more difficult by, what he described as, the uncooperative attitude of the bureaucrats and their subordinates.

He said even the process of costing some of the expenditures was almost frustrated by the Bureau of Public Procurement, which could not provide an updated list, insisting instead on a list prepared in 2013.

When asked what would happen to the indicted officials, the source said, “they will definitely be fired.”

He, however, said the punishment might be delayed until the National Assembly passed the budget.

When also asked to give further insight into the number of those who the government had found culpable in the deal and their identities, the source said the number was huge because those affected ran “a cartel.”

He said, “This people run a cartel. Those we are talking about cut across all the federal ministries and the Budget Office.

“They also cut across all levels in the civil service, not only the top shots alone.

“They have been making fortune from the budget process for years.

“That is why you see a Grade Level 9 person owning properties in choice areas in Abuja.

“For instance, there is a case of an assistant director who has refused to either be promoted or leave his current office for years despite that some of those who are his pairs are already permanent secretaries.

“He has been able to retain that seat with the connivance of his bosses.”

Attempts to get the Ministry of Planning and Budget were not successful as calls and a text message sent to the Director, Information in the ministry, Mr. Charles Dafe, were not replied as at 10:32pm on Saturday night.

Attempts to also get the reaction of the Senate Committee on Appropriation to the issue failed as calls put across to the Chairman, Senator John Eno, were not responded to while the text message sent had not been replied as at the time of filing this report.

However, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Senator Tayo Alasoadura, who spoke with our correspondent said, the strange discovery in the budget would be further established after the various senate panels would have scrutinised the budget estimates of the different agencies of government and submitted reports to the appropriation committee.

Alasoadura said it was only the appropriation committee, in its report which would be deliberated upon by the whole house, that could make public, any strange discovery in the budget.

He said, “What we are doing now is to check the budgets of the MDAs submitted to us. We ask questions on grey areas which they either provide answers to or promise to come back and explain why what we observed was included in the budget.”


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