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Budget Padding Scandal: Speaker Dogara's Bill To Check Budget Fraud Passes First Reading

Speaker Yakubu Dogara said his bill will regulate the preparation, presentation, enactment, implementation, monitoring and oversight as well as hand serious penalties to anyone who contravenes Appropriations Act in each fiscal year.

Following a turbulent year vitiated by frontal allegations of budget fraud, the Speaker of the Nigerian parliament has drafted a bill aimed at reforming the country’s porous appropriation process.

But critics immediately dismissed the proposal as a half-hearted measure that failed to address the controversial constituency intervention projects which lawmakers allegedly use to fleece the federal coffers.

Speaker Yakubu Dogara said his bill will regulate the preparation, presentation, enactment, implementation, monitoring and oversight as well as hand serious penalties to anyone who contravenes Appropriations Act in each fiscal year.

Proposed penalties for violation of the Appropriations Act include written reprimand, written warning, suspension from office, surcharge, demotion or reduction in status; denial or promotion, termination of employment, impeachment; and for committee chairmen in the National Assembly, removal from chairmanship of committee, among others.

The bill also proposed rewards for public officers and civil servants for outstanding work. The proposed reward includes a letter of commendation, certificate of merit, public decoration with a medal of recognition, recommendation for accelerated promotion, recommendation for national honour and gift in cash or kind among others.

Mr. Dogara also made provisions for a “Budget Process Calendar.” The calendar will require that some actions on the budget be completed as follows:

Budget presentation within the first week of September of every year.

The passage must be completed no later than the second week of December and assent for December 30, among others.

The proposal immediately scaled first reading in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Mr. Dogara’s spokesperson, Turaki Hassan, described the development as a “fulfillment of the Speaker’s pledge to reform the budget process.”

If eventually adopted, the changes may not constitute much hindrance to fraudulent manipulation of the budget by lawmakers, said Liborous Oshoma.

Mr. Oshoma, a Lagos-based lawyer, said Mr. Dogara’s proposal was a “subtle threat” to lawmakers and not a mechanism to rein in perennial budget fraud.

“The proposal is clearly a subtle threat to some lawmakers who may want to oppose the Speaker in the near future, they want to use it to bully lawmakers like Abdulmumin Jibrin,” Mr. Oshoma said.

Mr. Oshoma said ending budget fraud will require deep cooperation between the executive and the legislature and not this cursory proposal of the Speaker.

“The fraud usually happens before the budget is signed into law,” Mr. Oshoma said. “What the Speaker should do is to work with the executive for a broader, detailed legislation that will end all manner of questionable activities, including the so-called constituency projects.”

Mr. Dogara is an ardent supporter of constituency intervention programs for lawmakers, saying it is the only way to evenly distribute federal projects to all parts of the country.

His proposal came after months of revelations about how lawmakers were allegedly inserting fictitious projects into line items to dubiously channel public funds into their pocket.

The scandal broke after Speaker Yakubu Dogara moved against Abdulmumin Jibrin, his erstwhile ally, who played a key role in helping him beat back powerful political interests to emerge Speaker.

Mr. Jibrin’s allegations eventually saw him receive a one-year suspension from the parliament.

But critics maintain the so-called constituency projects line items mostly serve as a conduit for lawmakers to syphon public funds into their pockets because they are often poorly executed or, in most cases, never carried out.