A former permanent secretary with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Joe Keshi, has cautioned against making the civil servants scapegoats for the problems surrounding the Federal Government’s fiscal proposals this year.
Keshi said that it was a mistake made by all and that initially, the government was told that a zero-based budget couldn’t be prepared in two months but the administration went ahead and did it in two months.
“Everybody seems to be blaming the civil servants for what has gone wrong with the budget … we like to engage in the dialogue of the deaf in this country,” he stated in an interview with The Guardian.
Keshi, who was the immediate past Chairman of United Bank for Africa, noted that Prof. Pat Utomi was the first to caution that the government could not prepare a zero-based budget in two months, stressing that because such warnings were ignored, the country found itself in the present predicament and was now looking for scapegoats.
He said there was no need to look for scapegoats; the thing to do was to accept that a couple of honest mistakes were made and that a coordinated measure be put in place to ensure a more plausible and long-lasting solution.
He recalled that a couple of years ago, the Ministry of Finance issued a circular to all the ministries that the budget would be increased by 20 per cent or 30 per cent, resulting in every line item in that budget being increased by 20 per cent.
“The problem then or rather what happened in government is that there are some line item they have finished doing which they wanted to do years ago but they are still in the budget. It’s not like fraud or something, it’s just the system, it’s done all over the world, so that if they run out of money, then they look at the budget and begin to say where do we get money to via from. Then they say oh we have not spent this vote, can we use this vote to do this?
“For me, an honest mistake has been made by everybody, that is because we are in a hurry to do something. So, what we need to do is to see how we can adjust this mistake. First of all, train everybody on how to prepare a zero-sum budget and then before 2017 or 2018, you now introduce the zero-sum budget.
“By then, every ministry should have been directed to go through the budget line by line and clear everything you no longer need.
I can tell you that well over 25 per cent of all the items in the budget would go.”
The retired permanent secretary said the government should have asked for more time from the National Assembly as the law permitted them to spend for a period of time without approved budget. “Instead of all these calls on civil servants and saying heads will roll. Which head is going to roll? The head of the leader, if heads starts to roll, the man that the head starts the rolling is the man that the buck stops on his table.”