President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an immediate investigation into allegations of fraudulent padding of allocations in the 2016 budget, with strict orders that all cases of discrepancies, errors and ambiguities be resolved promptly, a senior government official is reported to have told online newspaper, Premium Times Thursday.
An extensive analysis of the budget had exposed questionable details, with the National Assembly on Tuesday cancelling the earlier announced date of its passage in order to have more time to work on the document.
The chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje, (APC-Gombe State), and his House of Representatives counterpart, Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC-Kano), said this was necessary to enable the National Assembly carry out “proper clean-up” of the budget.
Earlier, a senior presidency official blamed “budget mafia” for the controversial contents, in reference to civil servants responsible for preparing the budget.
Another top administration official on Thursday gave Premium Times further details on how the government was responding to the embarrassing budget allocations.
He pleaded anonymity, and said the government was avoiding publicly stating its position on the matter for now to avoid playing into the hands of its critics.
The official said both the Finance and Budget & National Planning ministries were determined to effect the necessary corrections and turn in a clean copy of the document for approval.
He blamed most of the errors in the budget on “over-ambitious civil servants” in the budget office who handled the preparation of the document prior to the appointment of ministers by Mr. Buhari.
He said by the time the ministers were eventually appointed, they had no sufficient time to properly scrutinize the budget for errors, in view of the tight deadline each of the ministries got before the final presentation to the joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015.
To enable the budget to be cleaned up of all the controversial allocations, the official said a high-powered panel had been constituted with a mandate to investigate all observations and concerns by individuals, media and agencies, particularly the National Assembly.
“The presidency has ordered the immediate investigation of all the allegations and issues, particularly on padding, raised by the National Assembly on various ministries, departments and agencies of government,” he said.
“The investigative panel is expected to critically look into the budget item-by-item, incident-by-incident, with particular attention to the reactions from the National Assembly, ministries, media, civil society groups or indeed anybody that raised concerns regarding the padding of the budget.
“All corrections would be made to ensure that the budget was passed as soon as possible. I assure you government is working cautiously on the corrections with the intention of correcting any error or malfeasance spotted in the 2016 Appropriation Bill. If there is any error whatsoever, it is being sorted out straight away,” the official added.
It remained unclear what sanctions the government was considering for officials that might be found to be involved in padding the budget.