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 told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday.
An extensive analysis of the budget by PREMIUM TIMES exposed questionable details, with the National Assembly on Tuesday suspending deliberations on the document indefinitely.
The chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje, (APC-Gombe State), and his House of Representatives counterpart, Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC-Kano), said the suspension 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. Our first source had said those involved might be fired.
The House of Representatives had asked government to order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to arrest and prosecute top civil servants behind the budget padding scandal.
On its part, the Senate said, apart from the prosecution of the civil servants, the Minister of National Planning and Budget, Udo Udoma, and other top officials of the ministry should also be sanctioned.
However, the official exonerated the minister, saying "That the budget could be presented the day it was presented and in the manner it was done was due to the extra effort and hard work by the ministers who inherited what the civil servants had already prepared.
"By the time they took over, most of the ministers did not have a good grasp of the details of the budget of their ministries".