Sunday, March 26, 2017 1:59 pm
A non-governmental organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) claimed that it has received credible information from whistle-blowers about ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to allegedly steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ (also known as constituency projects) in the 2017 budget.”
The group which made the allegation of fresh padding of 2017 budget in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday also said it is aware of the alleged risk of corruption involving the $2.5 budget oil benchmark increment which comes up to about N131 billion.
“The N131 billion will be appropriated to either reduce the deficit or increase expenditure or both but unless the spending of the funds is closely monitored and scrutinised, the funds may be diverted, mismanaged or stolen.”
The group said the Federal Government should take steps to stopping the padding of the 2017 budget proposal by immediately instituting the prosecution of principal officials of National Assembly indicted in the padding of 2016 budget.
Specifically, the group asked Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted officers; and to urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to divert N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget.”
In the letter dated 24 March 2017 and signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale, the organization requested the government to “take the above recommended steps within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute appropriate legal and public-interest proceedings to compel the government to discharge its national and international anti-corruption obligations and commitments in this matter.”
SERAP asked Buhari “to use his good offices and leadership position “to urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to you reports of their completed investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”
The group it has received very credible information from multiple sources that the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have now completed investigations into the allegations of padding of the 2016 budget, completed their reports, and indicted some principal officers of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Also, the accounts of some of the principal officers containing allegedly illicit funds have been frozen, and that the case files for the prosecution of those indicted are ready.”
SERAP noted that unless the principal officers indicted in the alleged padding of the 2016 budget are promptly prosecuted and any stolen public funds recovered, the administration of President Buhari will not be able to stop the alleged ongoing attempts to steal from the 2017 budget. Alleged corruption in the budget process will not just melt away or simply evaporate without addressing the fundamental issue of impunity of perpetrators.”
“Alleged corruption in the budget process will not just melt away or simply evaporate without addressing the fundamental issue of impunity of perpetrators.”
The organization said that, “Addressing alleged corruption in the budget process by pursuing prosecution of indicted principal officers of the National Assembly will provide an important opportunity for your government to reignite the fight against corruption and fulfil a cardinal campaign promise, to show that your government works on behalf of the many, and not the few, as well as jumpstart economic activities and break the back of the current recession.”
The letter reads in part: “Publishing the report of the investigation of the alleged padding of the 2016 budget, and prosecuting suspected perpetrators are absolutely important to avoid another padding in the 2017 budget, which your government can ill afford.”
“Corruption in the budget process takes away and erodes much needed resources for public and developmental purposes. SERAP is seriously concerned about the level of secrecy surrounding the budget process in the National Assembly, which has invariably created a breeding place for alleged corruption.”
“Secrecy in the National Assembly has clearly gone beyond the level permitted by law, and apparently served as the incubator for corruption, while depriving the Nigerian people of a much-needed opportunity to cleanse the National Assembly of persistent allegations of corruption.”
“SERAP is also concerned that deception in the budget process will continue unless Nigerians are granted access to inspect the budget process and other activities by the National Assembly. SERAP strongly believes that Nigerians have the right to know what their lawmakers are doing so that they are able to appraise their work and hold them to account.”
SERAP therefore asked Buhari to: “Urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly, and to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted officers;
“Direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget
“Urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget;
“Closely monitor and scrutinise the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil benchmark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.