Buhari vows to punish budget padding culprits

Buhari vows to punish budget padding culprits

• President says no going back on anti-graft campaign

Those who connived to inflate the 2016 budget figures may now have an angry President Muhammadu Buhari to contend with. He vowed late Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that they would not escape punishment.

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Addressing the Nigerian community in Saudi Arabia, Buhari said: “The culprits will not go unpunished. I have been a military governor, petroleum minister, military Head of State and headed the Petroleum Trust Fund. Never had I heard the words “budget padding.”

Our Minister of Budget and National Planning did a great job with his team. The minister became almost half his size during the time, working night and day to get the budget ready, only for some people to pad it.

“What he gave us was not what was finally being debated. It is very embarrassing and disappointing. We will not allow those who did it to go unpunished,” he said.

Buhari’s position in Saudi Arabia contradicted what the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, told journalists last week in Lagos.

Mohammed had said: “The total for every ministry has remained exactly the same as what was submitted to the National Assembly. A lot has been said about the budget. Let me make it clear that nobody can ever accuse this government of padding any budget.

“The total of all ministries put together has not exceeded N6.08 trillion that was submitted. It is factually incorrect to say that the budget was padded.

“This is the first time in the history of this country that a government will embark on what is called zero-based budget.“Before now, the budget system was what was called an envelope system. In an envelope system, there is no justification as to why we need N30 billion for a structure.’’

“This year, we decide that every ministry must have a zero-based budget. In other word, you must justify and explain why you need N100 billion.”

The president said that the unauthorised alterations had completely changed the document from the one he presented to the National Assembly.

The president also assured members of the Nigerian community that his administration was working diligently to fulfill its campaign promises, particularly on security, unemployment, and corruption.

Reaffirming his government’s zero tolerance for corruption, Buhari said that the war against corruption was a monumental task that he was determined to tackle successfully.

“We have zero tolerance for corruption and other unethical practices. We will deal decisively with anybody found wanting,” he promised members of the Nigerian community.

Also late Tuesday in Riyadh, the president said that his administration was fully committed to increasing the productivity of Nigeria’s agriculture and solid minerals sectors to save the nation from the harsh effects of lower crude oil prices.

He invited Saudi Arabian businessmen to invest in both sectors, noting that his administration would welcome greater foreign investment in support of its efforts to rapidly diversify the Nigerian economy.

Buhari said that Nigeria had regrettably depended too much on crude oil exports to the neglect of other resources and was now paying a harsh price for failing to diversify its economy early enough.

“With the downturn in the global prices of oil, we now have to prospect our solid minerals. We have to return to agriculture. Mining and agriculture are our hopes now. We will welcome investments in these areas. We will appreciate an in-flow of more resources and expertise to help us achieve our objective of economic diversification,” the president said.

The Chairman of the Council of the Saudi Arabian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Dr Abdulrahman Al Zamil said agriculture was a very important area of investment for its members, adding that they were already in Brazil, the United States of America and Sudan, “where we have huge farms.”

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