News Opinion

OPINION: Misappropriation as a calamitous fiscal leakage strategy

One of the major issues of concern in contemporary budgeting practice revolves around fiscal leakage points. These are holes that exist in the budget, which create an imbalance between the budgeted sum and the actual revenue expended.

They constitute a channel of transforming public funds into private finances. They are decorated routes of embezzlement that fuel illicit and ostentatious consumption in the society. Often times than not, these holes exist not just by coincidence (which might appear to be the case) but by deliberate and careful design, thereby making them assume the dimension of a strategy articulated intent upon diverting budgeted resources.

Misappropriation can take the form of bloated allocation to expenditure heads, units, ministries, departments and agencies. It could also be designed through white elephant projects or through mini, micro and semi-intermediate projects that are portrayed as mega programmes of national or regional momentous economic value.

READ ALSO: The priority of the FG is to ward off recession – Yemi Osinbajo

At other times, misappropriation occurs through ‘budgetary item insertion’ without any intention whatsoever to genuinely execute the expenditure obligation expressed therein. This is where those in charge of budget preparation can play the role of craftsmen and women, who with artistic professionalism cause an increase in the size of the bureau under the pretence of embarking on a journey to unleash growth and development for the betterment of the citizenry.

A sophisticated budget or financial expert can easily handle this task without courting the attention of the auditor’s pen, but an amateur simply bands figures together without a clue of ‘content justification’ in the expenditure proposal. Indeed, the consequences of wrong classification or ornamented expenditure could be catastrophic in an economy notwithstanding its mode or who the perpetrators might be.

Misappropriation does to the budget exactly what avoidance does to tax collection. It is within these contexts that one can see the import of the ₦81.5 billion crisis rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the mouth-watering ₦523.3 million spent on school feeding programme during the lockdown, the ₦64 billion ‘great wall’ of University of Maiduguri and the Covid-19 palliative activities of the Presidential Task Force.

For the NDDC, one may wonder if the appointment of Senator Godswill Akpabio to the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was orchestrated by some powers-that-be, to serve as a special purpose vehicle in distorting the operations of that A-grade agency for private financial and political gains.

If that is the case, then the initial appointment of Festus Keyamo as minister of state in that ministry seemed to have been a mistake for that venture (as he might possibly be a spoiler) for that strategic assignment, hence his immediate deployment to the Ministry of Labour and Productivity to assist Senator Chris Ngige in overseeing employment and labour matters.

Similar suspicion may also be stirred up in the case of the appointment of the minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHADMSD), Sadiya Farouq, as well as the selection of the officers in charge of the school feeding and COVID-19 palliative programmes.

Otherwise, how else can one explain the huge allocation to the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the agency under it, the NDDC, and the scandal that followed it while the toothless financial crime fighters snore in sleep? How can one explain the billions of naira the government claims to have expended on the school feeding programme especially the ₦523.23 million the minister claimed to have spent during the pandemic period when all schools are closed?

How can one understand the (mis)appropriation of ₦64 billion for the 27-kilometre wall project of the University of Maiduguri while the university itself is starved of fund for basic academic and administrative functions?

How can one justify the huge sum being spent to fight Covid-19 when it is openly suspected that there is gross expenditure mimicking by state governments, agencies and individuals charged with the responsibility to fight the scourge?

Interestingly, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended settled the matter on whose shoulder the power of appropriation rests, the legislature. By implication, the power of the executive is limited to preparation, execution and audit with the legislature having an oversight function in all these processes.

This simply points to the fact that misappropriation in public budgeting is always the by-product of ‘joint effort’ of the executive and legislature. It is difficult, nay impossible for a politician to pull out money from public fund without an accomplice, a technical assistant as it were, from the organ of administration, usually a senior bureaucrat.

This way, the unimaginable monumental height attained by the corruption of diverse degrees and dimension in our polity today, especially during this democratic dispensation in general and the current regimes at federal and state levels, in particular, persuades one to reflect on the possibility of some elements in government (executive, legislature and judiciary) being culpable for misappropriation.

So, for the NDDC’s shameful display of its dubious operations, it really doesn’t matter whether or not some honourable members of the National Assembly are registered contractors of the organisation. It is also not relevant whether due process was followed in awarding the contracts to them.

What is important here is that the National Assembly is fulfilling its obligation to the Nigerian people in breach of the same, possibly by allowing the executive to usurp its power of appropriation. The truth of the matter is that the impact of these open cases of misappropriation in the economy is already calamitous and would surely get worse with each next day unless we change our attitude towards governance.

The puzzle right now is this: why would lawmakers and other agencies of ‘check-and-balances’ look elsewhere while the nation is being plundered by some of their own at supersonic speed?

Has the political and bureaucratic space been fully occupied by the jackals who will not let go of their prey until the last bone in them has been cracked? Do they have the financing mechanism for the 2023 agenda in their minds already? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

About the author

Ihesiulo Grace

Leave a Comment