Stop Borrowing, Try Fiscal Responsibility – By: Eugene Enahoro

Jhe Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, continually insists that the government should borrow rather than tighten its belt and live within its means. The minister seems totally indifferent to this administration’s inability to properly account for the money. It beggars belief that without being able to provide proper accountability for money borrowed in the past, they have no qualms about continuing to borrow and incur debts that future generations will have to repay.

Despite the lack of financial probity in government spending, the minister believes that all is well and that the problem is revenues, not debts. Its utterly unjustifiable and absurd solution to an inability to manage funds properly is to raise taxes in various forms even though the majority of citizens live below the international poverty line. It is tragic that, given the reality of misery, debauchery, corruption and irresponsibility of government, the nation continues unrestrained.

One might have expected an administration touting the merits of fighting corruption to end the squandermania built into government, but lamentably, the presidency is still steeped in imperial grandeur rushing to the surface. stranger in the blink of an eye. Governors give themselves unconstitutional, unaccountable security votes when they travel to social functions on rented private jets rather than commercial airlines, and lawmakers settle for unjustifiable compensation prodigious. This is why the nation borrows!

The continuing mess of irresponsibility and failure to hold proper accounts or adhere to existing financial procedures is highlighted each year in the Federation’s Auditor General’s (AuGF) report on “Non-Compliance Issues /weakness of internal control in ministries departments and agencies (MDA)”. Official indifference to revelations is a disconcerting endorsement of corruption. No one ever takes responsibility, not even the chief accountants of MDAs.

Officials are expected to be held accountable, but this never happens, which only adds to more irresponsible governance. It is a mockery of those who fall victim to government corruption and incompetence and short-circuits the ability of the general public to insist on honor and virtue in public service. Indeed, the way in which corrupt political officeholders, past and present, lead lives of luxury is a good indication that corruption does indeed pay. It is high time for the Minister of Finance to tell citizens the plain truth, that this administration has no idea how to get the economy out of the mess it has put it in. Alas, the National Assembly (NASS) systematically fails to play its constitutional role of calling to order the executive, because it is the same pair of sleeves. AuGF indicted NASS management for embarking on ‘unexplained expenses’ of 9.42 billion naira, car loans of 1.59 billion naira, ‘running costs’ of 2.25 billion naira to house members without the required documents and the non-remittance of billions in Value Added Tax (VAT) to the Federal Government. government cash. All this on top of being unable to do the job they are paid to do! In 2021, the budget office confirmed 185 duplicate projects in the budget. Recently, BudgIT, a civic tech organization, uncovered 460 duplicate projects worth N378 billion in the 2022 budget, proving that under this administration nothing has changed or improved in terms of probity. It’s a free-for-all game in which long-suffering innocent citizens are asked to pay the price for official inefficiency, incompetence and grand larceny.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Responsibility Project (SERAP) exposed the embezzlement of funds by NASS members who are tasked with performing oversight functions and protecting the public interest. In addition to paying for the renovation of unspecified residential areas against financial regulations, members of the House of Representatives have refused to repay “loans” of 258 million naira. The NASS Service Commission has also been indicted for failing to withdraw illegally given cash advances to staff and deducting hundreds of millions from senators’ salaries as housing loan repayments, but not returning them to the treasury.

The AuGF does not tire of recalling Article 417 of the Financial Regulations which stipulates that: “Expenditures shall be strictly classified according to estimates and appropriations shall be allocated only to the purpose for which the money is foreseen. Its report indicates that weaknesses in internal control systems continue to allow misappropriation of public funds and difficulties in financing the budget. In addition, virtually all of MDA’s financial statements could not be verified or reconciled to the asset register, raw material and consumable inventory could not be verified, and there was no verifiable evidence to substantiate many expenses, including unreimbursed personal advances, payments without relevant supporting documentation in addition to the refusal to remit internally generated revenue.

As financial mismanagement continues unabated, evidence has emerged that the Solid Minerals Fund set up by President Obasanjo to reduce the country’s overreliance on oil has been used in a shameful and unjustified for other purposes. Additionally, the excess crude account was reduced by more than 50% despite crude oil prices averaging above the benchmark for the year. Rather than continuing to borrow money they cannot account for and considering raising oil prices to cover up wrongdoing, this government would do well for all Nigerians if they just focused on the real handy job of living within their means and effectively administering public funds. with probity. Only then will Nigerians be convinced of the need to borrow endlessly.

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