Why You Must Never Rob Peter To Pay Paul

A Federal Government Establishment recently came under fire, with its workers embarking on indefinite strike. The problem between Management and Staff could be gleaned from the conversation between Dr. Pee and Nurse Jay:
‘Oga doesn’t know what he’s doing at all,’ said Nurse Jay. ‘How could he do that kind of rubbish, returning the whooping sum of N100.5 million to the government Treasury while owing his staff two months salary. What’s the sense in that?’
‘Well, can you beat that?’ Dr. Pee rejoined, his eyes wide with anger. ‘What was he trying to prove really? Was he trying to impress the Federal Government or what? Maybe he wanted them to believe that he was scrupulous in the management of funds, whereas he could not even pay workers’ salaries! What kind of rubbish is that?’
Dr. Pee’s and Nurse Jay’s represented the popular opinion of the staff of that Establishment. For many months staff salaries had been subjected to heavy taxation with Management pleading for understanding from the workers; as it were, everyone was laboring under the notion that the grant made to their Establishment had run out and that management was broke. Thus when the news began to filter in that establishment recorded a ‘surplus’ of over N100.5 million from its last budget, which sum it had paid back into Government coffers, a riot almost broke out among the staff.
‘The DG had no right to do that! He shouldn’t be doing Father Christmas with money that ought to be used to pay our salaries! How can he be declaring “surplus” when he’s not even been able to pay workers’ salaries?’
Tempers were flying, and whenever tempers were high, people would forget the beautiful legal maxim AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM (‘hear the other side’). When parties disagree, the only thing that is sure to pour balm on hurting emotions is for them to air their respective views in a cordial atmosphere. However, in the incident here referred to, there was no pacifying the workers’ union. The union called out its members to down tools; and, as usual, the poor masses were made to bear the brunt – for when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
The lesson to draw from happenings like the above is that persons who find themselves at the helm of affairs of Statutory Bodies ought to be well grounded in Administrative Law and must learn to make adequate consultations prior to drawing the budgets of that establishment for any fiscal year.
Black’s Law Dictionary (Ninth Edition) defines APPROPRIATION as:
‘A legislative body’s act of setting aside a sum of money for a public purpose.’
When a Budget is drawn, particular sums of money are voted for projects under separate Heads in a financial year. This is called SPECIFIC APPROPRIATION. ‘Salary’, for instance, has its own Vote, which Vote must take care of such related expenditure as Promotion Arrears’, ‘Leave Bonuses’, etc. If in the course of the year the organization decides to increase its staff strength, and this has not been provided for under the current budget, a problem immediately crops up. This is because the new employees must be paid and their salaries must come from the Vote meant for that purpose. If there is a shortfall in the Vote for Salaries because of the added mouths, too bad! On no account should the Vote for acquiring new vehicles for the office, for instance, be employed in the payment of salaries, for this would amount to ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’: an offence the Head of the establishment must be held accountable for.
What the above means is that if at the end of the fiscal year some projects were not executed, monies that were earmarked to carry out such projects must be retired to the Government coffers without the least dent. It is at the stage of drawing the budget that the head of the particular establishment must make every effort to ensure that scrupulous planning is carried out. The rule of ‘Touch and Play’ which guides a particular game among children is what applies once a Budget is passed. Of course, there is provision for a Supplementary Budget to take care of incidentals; but any administrative head who dips his hand into a different Vote to take care of an area where he has recorded a shortfall will be guilty of Misappropriation Of Funds.
All in all, an Administrative Head who is worthy of the name must never ‘Rob Peter to Pay Paul’.