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26
November
2022

Budget Padding: Farouq writes Finance Minister, demands explanation 

The Ministry  of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, headed by Sadiya Umar Farouq, has written a letter to the Ministry  of Finance, Budget and National Planning, headed by Mrs Zainab Ahmed, seeking clarification on the N206 billion inserted into its  2023 Appropriation Bill.

Farouq insisted that she knew nothing about how the controversial figure was inserted into the budget.

It is not only the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development who is accusing the Finance Ministry  of budget padding. The Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd), also told the Senate during budget defence sessions that the finance ministry  had inserted N11bn into his 2023 budget. Similarly, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, pointed accusing fingers at the Finance Ministry  for padding his ministry’s budget proposals.

Worried at the development, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, in a letter dated, Wednesday November 23,2022, dispatched to the Federal Ministry of Finance, requested the cooperation of her finance counterpart in clarifying how the amount came into the budget,given that the 2023 budget proposal her ministry released to the Budget Office did not contain the figure.

A meeting convened on Wednesday by the minister and attended by top management staff of the ministry including the permanent secretary and directors,ended in the evening with a resolution that a letter requesting explanation from the finance ministry be transmitted.

A source in the Finance and Accounts Department of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development,told Vanguard that the letter was immediately drafted, and sent to the finance ministry.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source said:”As a ministry, we have just sent a letter today (Wednesday) to the Federal Ministry of Finance, requesting clarification on the additional figure inserted into our ministry’s budget in the 2023 fiscal year..

“Going by the content,we expect a response from the Ministry  of Finance between now and Friday after which we will reach out to the National Assembly on our position. We are disturbed and the minister is not leaving anything to chance. We want a quick clarification of the inserted figure in our ministry’s 2023 budget proposal,”he said

Also speaking on the issue, a top policy maker in the ministry,who didn’t want his name released to the public, said Farouq was embarrassed when she was asked about the amount by members of the Senate Committee on Special Duties when she appeared before the committee to defend her ministry’s 2023 budget proposal at the National Assembly.

“I was there, the Senate Committee asked the minister  how she came about the additional money outside the initial proposal submitted to the Budget Office and the minister responded that she didn’t know. Truly, as a ministry,we didn’t  know how the N206 billion found its way into the ministry ‘s budget proposal.

“Everything about that money, she (minister) actually does not know anything about it. And like I said, as a ministry,we don’t know. We just saw it there,”he said 

Finance Minister fails to react

Efforts to obtain the reaction of the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, failed, as she neither picked calls made to her, nor responded to a WhatsApp message sent to her.

Budget Office to react next week

Spokesman at the Budget Office of the Federation, Olajuwon Afolabi, however told Vanguard that “the matter is too technical for outright response having just surfaced at the National Assembly during the week”. He said the office was working on the appropriate response which he will communicate next week.

It will be recalled that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs had told the National Assembly committee that her ministry requested for some projects for the North East Development Commission,NEDC, and the National Social Safety Net Project in the 2022 budget but they  were not released, expressing surprise that the money inserted, was now ten times of the 2023 proposed budget of her ministry.

The minister who expressed surprise told the Committee that, “Yes we made mention of the projects for 2022 which was not released and part of it was part for the NEDC.

“The money was not released and now we have seen it recurring by almost 10 folds and we are also going to clarify from the Ministry of Finance to know why this increase despite the fact that the previous year, the money was not even released for the project. So we will get the details then send to you on that”.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had expressed disappointment at budget padding, describing it as worrisome. Responding to queries on the issue, while briefing State House reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by the president at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Malami said the Federal Government was studying the revelations and would explore available measures to address it. According to him, “the government is concerned and will do what is necessary to address the issue.”

Federal lawmakers had raised concerns about the abuse of the budget process following submissions by some government agencies that some amounts were inserted into their estimates without their knowledge allegedly by the ministry of finance.

Officials from the National Universities Commission (NUC), Ministries of Defence, Power and Humanitarian Affairs, during ongoing National Assembly budget hearings, disowned some line items running into billions of naira in their 2023 budget proposals.

They told lawmakers that they could not explain what the sums were meant for or the details of the projects tied to the funds since they were not part of their proposals sent to the finance ministry for the 2023 fiscal year. They blamed the finance ministry for inserting the money into their budgets.

On November 5, 2022, the Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Abubakar Rashid, told the joint Senate and House Committee on Tertiary Education and TETfund during budget defence, that N12 billion was inserted by the Ministry of Finance into the agency budget.

He said, “In NUC’s budget we have a problem. We had additional money given to us that we didn’t request, but I later went to the Ministry of Finance to find out because our budget was always hovering around N3 billion with about N2 billion for personnel, about N700-N800 million for capital, about N700 million for overhead. But last year, we saw an additional N12 billion given for World Bank projects. The World Bank projects are not processed through this mode.”

Also on November 17, the Ministry of Defence during a budget hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Defence blamed the finance ministry for the N10.8bn inserted into their budget.

The vice chairman of the committee, Senator Istifanus Gyang, said N8.6bn was discovered to have been allocated for the purchase of military hardware and N2.25bn for Safe School Initiative.

“The two items, when critically viewed, were not supposed to be in the ministry’s budget since hardware procurements are done by the army, navy and air force; and the Safe School Initiative by the Federal Ministry of Education,” he said.

Responding, the Permanent Secretary, Ibrahim Abubakar Kana, said the money was inserted into the ministry’s budget by the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

On November 1, the Senate Committee on Power also discovered N195bn earmarked as counterpart funding for bilateral and multilateral projects in the ministry of power’s 2023 budget proposal. The chairman of the committee, Senator Gabriel Suswam, in an interview, said his panel, after interfacing with the officials of the ministry during the budget defence session, found out that even the ministry was not aware of the projects.

Suswam said budgetary allocations for such projects were being made every year but they were never seen, and that the power ministry could not explain how the money was expended.

Senators and House of Representatives members said the revelations by heads of agencies, blaming the finance ministry for unknown line items in their budget estimates vindicated members of the National Assembly who are mostly being accused of budget padding.

They said the situation was worrisome, especially at a time the country requires fiscal discipline in the face of falling revenue and increasing deficits.

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