N19.76trn 2023 Appropriation Bill: ICPC alleges N400bn padding in 2021, 2022 budgets

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…Uncovers N49.9bn salaries for ghost workers

…As Senate probes N1.4bn earmarked for moribund NIOMCO

By Moses Adeniyi

Indications that the 2023 Appropriation Bill may suffer the infiltration of budget padding has been brought to fore, as the phenomenon has coloured budgets of the nation in successive years.

Following the trend, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and other related offences has sent a strong letter to the Senate that the 2021 and 2022 budgets were padded by various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government with duplicated projects worth N400 billion.

The breakdown of the padding revealed that the N13.59 trillion 2021 budget was padded by N300 billion, while the running N17.12 trillion 2022 budget was padded with N100 billion duplicated projects.

In addition, a sum of N49.9billion inserted as salaries for ghost workers fictitiously scheduled for the first half of 2022 (January and June this year) was discovered by the antigraft agency.

The disclosure is coming at a time when the presentation of the 2023 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari is imminent.

The consideration of past budgets which have been padded are known to have been passed both by the National Assembly, signed by the Presidency, without the duo spotting the dots of duplications of projects which have been infused recurrently in successive budgets.

Questions of how the National Assembly failed in its oversight function and the presidency its supervisory role without spotting the specks of duplications have raised outrage upon revelations of budget padding incidents in past budgets.

On Thursday,  the ICPC Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye in Abuja during an interface session with the Senator Olamilekan Adeola (All Progressives Congress, APC, Lagos West) led Senate Committee on Finance, disclosed that the N300 billion duplicated projects in the 2021 budget and N100 billion in the 2022 budget were tracked through thorough scrutinisation carried out on approved projects for the various MDAs.

The ICPC boss said preemptive move, saved the country from spending N49.9 billion for salaries of ghost workers put on fictitious pay roll by the fraudulent MDAs between January and June this year.

He mentioned that except for the preemptive measures, monies earmarked for the fictitious items would have been released, stating that the measure stopped the release of funds which would have ended in private pockets.

“N300 billion would have been wasted by the Federal Government on duplicated projects inserted into the 2021 budget and N100 billion for same purpose in the current fiscal year if not tracked and intercepted by ICPC.

“The same preemptive move, saved the country from spending N49.9billion for salaries of ghost workers put on fictitious pay roll by the fraudulent MDAs between January and June this year.

“Names of MDAs involved in projects duplications running into intercepted billions of Naira and fictitious pay rolls, are available and will be forwarded to the committee.

“The good thing about the preemptive moves made by us is that monies for the fraudulent acts were prevented from being released to the affected MDAs and it is gratifying that the Finance Ministry and Accountant General Office cooperated with us,” he said.

Following the revelations, the ICPC  boss hinted relevant committees of the National Assembly to be on the look-out for such dubious acts by MDAs to skew budgetary provisions by insertions of project duplications in the proposed N19.76trillion 2023 budget.

“From our own end, detection of such projects are done by verifying their locations and names, upon which we tell the appropriate authorities not to release wrong projects projects approved for them,” he said.

On his part, the Senate Committee Chairman, Adeola expressed his satisfaction with the presentation of the ICPC measures, vowing that the operational cost of the agency will be increased from N1.8billion.

His words, “This Committee is impressed by proactive ways your commission  adopted in the fight against corruption.

“Your submissions clearly show that all hope is not lost for our dear country as far as fighting corruption is concerned.

“Your operational cost which is N1.8billion will be increased as required impetus for more proactive measures against corrupt practices across the various MDAs.”

This is just as the Senate has begun an investigation into the activities of the National Iron Ore Mining Company, (NIOMCO) Itakpe, Kogi State, to unravel how the N1.4 billion released to the Company was utilised and how the money was spent despite its zero performance since 2008.

NIOMCO Itakpe, Kogi State, has been non functional, moribund since 2008 making it 14 years of no production, yet it has a staff strength of 700 that are being paid monthly.

The probe Committee set up by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Olamilekan Adeola is headed by Senator Sani Musa, APC, Niger East with a mandate to carry out a proper investigation into the Organisation and submit report in the next two weeks.

The probe was sequel to the presentation before the Committee by NIOMCO Sole Administrator, Augustine Nkechika who told the lawmakers that though the company which occupies 8,000 square metres of land had been grounded for 14 years now, yet it has its budget approved every year and the 700 staff are being paid their salaries every month.