Putting an end to all breaches
The Muhammadu Buhari administration may just have set the tone for zero tolerance for impunity, incompetence and sloppiness in federal operations with the sacking of the Director-General, Budget office, Yayaha Gusau, the other day, over the poor handling of this year’s spending plan. This bold statement of intent is laudable, but the government must not give the impression that this is a one-off action. It must ensure a consolidation of the process and the gains of its present anti-budget padding battle while laying a solid foundation for transparent and coordinated budgeting process.
It is unfortunate that Gusau had to come under the hammer only six months into his tenure as the director-general, a tenure that is even renewable after the first four years. But President Buhari needed to set an example and douse the brewing tension over the 2016 Budget. Especially if he weighed, as he had to, the repercussion of any inaction on his part against his avowed commitment to cleanse the legendary Augean stable, there was no other option than for heads to roll.
The budget document has been roundly rubbished in many quarters. Against the background of confirmation by even some ministers, that what was prepared by their ministries and was personally presented to the National Assembly by the President was not the document before the legislative houses, it was apparent that the nation was being misled. Complaints by the Health minister of “foreign” elements are in the public domain while the Senate had earlier discovered about N10 billion “questionably smuggled” into the Education ministry’s budget. Such infractions or discrepancies are too serious and call for punishing the culprits.
The National Assembly has promised a thorough oversight function on the budget debate. That is how the system should work to engender transparency. The truth is that the same thoroughness cannot be ascribed to past budget considerations which gave room for all kinds of unauthorized alterations, fueling corruption at the expense of the welfare of the masses.
Certainly, Yahaya Gusau may have been scape-goated for his subordinates’ sloppiness or misdeeds or the corruptive tendencies of certain public officials and entrenched interests who have perfected the art of defrauding the government and the people of billions of Naira for years. These are enemies of the nation.
Hence, Gusau should not be the only one to be punished. So, government has to get to the root of the tardiness which has caused it so much embarrassment, once and for all and uproot all the bad plants in the process. Thus far, a consolation is the presidential assurance that all the unscrupulous persons involved in the recurring budget embellishment for selfish interests would face “the most severe punishment”.
Since it has now been established that the “unauthorized alterations” of such national fiscal document is not new, in a way it can only mean that the deterioration of values or rot in government service is much worse than oft-stated. The civil service, no doubt is in dire need of a rescue. Budget embellishment or inflation may just be only one of many ways in which officials have consciously committed crimes against the country and broken the code of ethics of the service.
A budget mafia is being suggested in some quarters as responsible for the embarrassing allocations and it is high time such a gang was broken. This calls for the strengthening of the Efficiency Unit of the Federal Ministry of Finance too. It is a reinforcement of the long-held observation that Nigeria is never short of rules or laws to curb infractions or make a system work. Rather, implementation of the rules or execution of laws by the appropriate agencies has always been suspect.
A fall-out of the current embarrassing situation is that a crime and commensurate punishment policy has not been firmly entrenched. Meritorious performance in service should always be rewarded just as inefficiency or worse still, corruption, must be punished as civil service rules even stipulates. At every point, there has to be performance evaluation. Passion for the country must be evident in every official of government. Buhari’s zero tolerance for corruption do not seem half-hearted but the process must be institutionalized lest it also gets corrupted. The budget padding embarrassment actually calls for vigilance by officials responsible for taking decisions on behalf of the government if they would not be accused of being accomplices in a crime.
With Gusau’s example, officials should know that anyone who willfully misleads the President and the country will not escape sanction.