Ex-Minister Okonjo-Iweala: Why I leaked N17 billion budget ‘padding’

Former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy during the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Sunday explained the reason she decided to leak N17 billion budget “padding” by the National Assembly in 2015, adding that it was the “price to pay” for the passage of the budget and not bribe as reported by the media.

Okonjo-Iweala said this on Sunday on her Twitter handle.

She said she decided to expose the what transpired behind closed door in order for the country to move forward.

The former Minister in her book, titled: “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines,” had said: “By the time we presented budget on December 16, 2014, the oil prices has further fallen down to $58 per barrel. We were prepared and knew we had to trigger the additional expenditure and revenue measure in 2015 to make the budget work. This would be tough, given that we had entered election year.

“Indeed, legislators initially refused to accept pay cuts to their regular N150 billion budget, despite dwindling revenues. But, eventually agreed to 13 percent cut against backdrop of Ministers accepting voluntary 50 percent to their basic salaries.

“In a tough session with the National Assembly ad-hoc committee on budget (made up chairs of Finance committee and Appropriation Committee of both chambers and other leaders of National Assembly), an additional N20 billion was reintroduced as election expenses for the National Assembly members.

“We insisted that the amount should be dropped because it nullified the 13 percent cut to their statutory budget, but managed N20 billion figure by only N3 billion to N17. This become the price to have 2015 budget passed.”

However, Okonjo-Iweala in response to the media report on Sunday on her Twitter handle said mischief makers are trying to distort the content of her book.

She also faulted the reaction of the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to her position on the issue.

She tweeted: “It has come to my attention that mischief makers are again trying to distort what is written in my book, ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: the Story Behind the Headlines’, for their own political purposes.

“One more time, It is important that people read the book for themselves. In the case of the N17 billion, the book does not talk of bribe. It indicates that lawmakers increased the budget by N17 billion and we had to accept that to move on; hence, the term ‘price to pay’.

“The reason for discussing what happened is that this approach needs to change. The country must clear up and clarify its budget process for the future to improve.

“Those like Hon Gbajabiamiala trying to introduce lies that myself and my aides put in our own projects and lawmakers were fighting with me on that basis are playing their usual cynical games and Nigerians are tired of that!

“Lies obscure the country’s problems and do not allow us to improve. There were and there still are politicians in the National Assembly trying to do the right thing. The book also points that out.

“Such well meaning legislators should not allow their strident colleagues to twist matters and divert attention from the need to improve the country’s budget process so our young people can see a better side of their country.”

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