How Top Civil Servants Plotted To Thwart FG’s Zero-based Budgeting

Budgeting• Buhari May Sack ‘Unscrupulous’ Bureaucrats
The recent embarrassment over swapping and subsequent padding of the 2016 budget may not be unconnected with moves by the top echelon of the civil service to thwart government’s implementation of zero-based budgeting, The Guardian has learnt.
It was gathered that when the crème of the civil service, especially those at the Budget Office and the National Planning Commission learnt that the Federal Government had concluded plans to implement the new budgeting method, they mobilised to delay the process and eventually got to work at the last minute when there would be much pressure.
Many of the controversial provisions in the budget, it is alleged, were smuggled in by what was described as ‘the Budget Mafia’ in the civil service, which is made up of people who consider the period of budgeting as “massive opportunity to arrange the stealing of public funds.”
The Guardian learnt that top civil servants involved in the embarrassment might be shown the door soon, a situation that has led to palpable fear.
Last week, federal lawmakers embarrassingly grilled permanent secretaries over the padding of ministries’ and agencies’ budgets. In one case, a subhead in the ministry of education was inflated with N10 billion.
A source in the presidency yesterday said bureaucrats are deeply involved with the inconsistencies in the budget.
Explaining the role of civil servants in the sham, the source said: “Bureaucratic resistance and entrenched systemic corrupt practices dogged every move of the presidency to produce proposals reflecting financial prudence and frugality, during the preparation of the 2016 Budget now before the National Assembly.”
For instance, he said, after learning that the presidency was considering a large budget of possibly N8trn in order to significantly increase capital expenditure, bureacrats brought a proposal of N9.7trn for overhead and capital spending even without personnel spending.
“Of the proposed N9.7trn, the bureaucrats planned to spend an alarming N3trn on overhead alone, but the presidency eventually slashed this to N163b lower by 8 per cent than 2015 budget which was N177b, indicating massive cut of some of the main provisions by the Buhari presidency.
“Bureaucrats also proposed to spend N2.1trn on personnel for the 2016 estimates compared to about N1.8trn in the 2015 budget. But the presidency also cut this down to N1.7trn in the final estimates sent to the legislature.
“The situation and its fallout were so bad that it provoked the annoyance of the President who nonetheless kept his cool, buying time so as to meet the target date for the presentation of the budget in line with extant laws and regulations governing the budget process.”
However, yesterday, it was disclosed that the presidency engaged the skills of experts with required capacity to help in the budgeting process, especially with the adoption of the Zero-based budgeting, as against the usual envelope and incremental system used in past years by the federal government.
Explaining the rationale behind government’s new approach, the source said zero-based budgeting proceeds on the basis of justifying need and costs rather than the annually incremental approach that transfers expenses from previous budgets with added upward reviews.
He alleged that although efforts had been made to train some civil servants on the operation of the new approach, they didn’t brief the minister on the level of progress made in adopting the new template for budgeting.
“For weeks after the minister was sworn in, the bureaucrats kept planning on the old budget model, stalling the decision to use the Zero-based budget until the new Minister found out from the presidency. This stalling led to the waste of valuable time,” he said

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