Saturday, 24 May 2014

Military Chiefs Lambast Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Over Budget

'No budget will be enough to meet military demands, but for now, I think the sector takes almost a trillion of the budget’ –Okonjo-Iweala

‘It's not just about non-release of appropriated funds. Even money approved by President was not released’ –Military source

The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and service chiefs are at loggerheads over disbursement of the financial allocations to the military.

Investigations showed that there were instances where “money would be released on paper,” but the military would be told that there was no cash back-up.

    While Okonjo-Iweala claimed the Federal Government released allocations to the military promptly because its welfare is one of government’s priorities, the service chiefs said that the delay in releasing its allocations had hampered its fight against terrorism.

    The top government official, who spoke to Punch said, “The civil servants would frustrate all efforts unless they get a certain percentage from the money. The Army has not cried out because it is a disciplined institution. It is an act of indiscipline and unprofessional conduct for the Army to complain in public.

    “But do you know that because of this frustration, early in the week, all the service chiefs went to the minister of finance to protest to her,” the source said.

Investigations by Punch revealed that the top Service Chiefs, who met with the minister in Abuja during the week, complained about the delay in releasing the funds allocated for military operations.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh; Chief of Army Staff, General Kenneth Minimah; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin, and Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Adesola Amosu, confronted the minister about the paucity of funds to contain the Boko Haram insurgents, who kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls on April 14, 2014 in Chibok, Borno State.

But during a press conference in Abuja on Friday, Okonjo-Iweala said the Federal Government had released a total amount of N130.7bn to the Ministry of Defence for military operations between January and April this year.

The minister said the welfare of the military was one of the priorities of the Federal Government owing to its campaign against terrorism in the country.

Giving a breakdown of the amount released so far to the military, Okonjo-Iweala said N85.9bn was released for personnel cost while the balance was for overheads and capital expenditure.

According to her, the military currently has a provision of about N1trn in the 2014 budget, adding that based on its demands, no amount of budgetary provision could take care of its operations.

The minister said, “Defence spending is top in everything, you know that military establishment needs new things to assist in its work and ours will not be different.

“To be specific, the military has about N968.12bn and we have disbursed N130.7bn between January and April 2014.”

Okonjo-Iweala debunked claims in some quarters that the ministry of finance was responsible for delays in the payment of salaries of men of the armed forces, adding that the military handled the payment of salaries of its personnel, as they had not been captured under the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System.

IPPIS is a new payment platform of the Federal Government which allows salaries to be released directly into account of employees instead of going through the old system that is fraught with bureaucracies.

The service chiefs, Saturday PUNCH learnt, said that the delay by the ministry of finance in releasing funds for the military had hindered the service from procuring quality equipment to tackle terrorism.

It was gathered that the matter came to a head early this week when the service chiefs confronted the finance minister.

It was learnt that although it was true that some of the military equipment procured in 2012 were not working as reported by the media, the military was still bogged down by the delay by the ministry of finance in releasing funds.

A senior government official, who confided in one of our correspondents, said that the problems ranged from inadequate budgetary provision for the military to delay in releasing appropriated funds.

He said that there were instances when some senior civil servants insisted on getting a certain percentage of approved funds before they could be released.

Nigeria’s defence budget (N256.02bn) was eighth in Africa in 2012.

In 2012, Algeria, which had the largest defence budget in Africa, voted N1.48tn for defence. It was followed by South Africa with N736bn. Egypt’s defence budget of N707.2bn ranked third in Africa.

Angola budgeted N663.36bn in 2012 for defence. It ranked fourth in Africa, while Morocco with a defence budget of N544bn ranked fifth.

Libya budgeted N477.92bn for defence in the same year. It ranked sixth, while Sudan’s N394.56bn ranked seventh.

Unlike Nigeria, Algeria had succeeded, to a very large extent, in containing the terrorism threat by an Al-Qaeda linked group, which is said to be supporting Boko Haram.

Algeria, apparently because of its strong army, turned down the United States and French help to assist in freeing 41 hostages held by an Al-Qaeda group at a gas plant late 2012.

The Associated Press had reported that some of the hostages were killed in an attempt by Algerian Commands to free the hostages.

In 2013, N281.51bn was allocated to the three security agencies (Army, Air Force and Navy) in Nigeria.

The Army got N130.01bn while N73.34bn and N78.15bn were earmarked for the Navy and Air Force respectively.

But of the N130.01bn budgeted for the Army, N1.85bn was allocated for purchase of defence equipment.

The Navy and Air Force had budgets of N409.4m and N1.51bn respectively for the same purpose.

Investigations revealed that the amount budgeted for military hardware was grossly inadequate for a country fighting terrorism.

It was gathered that there were no provisions for the purchase of mine resistant tanks in 2013 and 2014 budgets.

Such tanks are needed to fight the insurgents because of reports that they (Boko Haram members) had planted landmines round their camps.

Nigeria currently has no mine resistant tanks. Military source put the price of a standard mine resistant tank at N1bn, but it was learnt United States bought 15 mine resistant tanks known as Buffalo in 2004 for $10m.

It was learnt that the problem was not limited to the delay in releasing budgeted funds.

It was gathered that there had been situations where civil servants deliberately refused to release special funds approved by President Goodluck Jonathan.
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