This year’s federal budget is witnessing a lot of inanities and frivolities. The first week of the National Assembly in 2016 was spent on the distraction of first, a “missing budget” and second, two versions of the 2016 federal budget before the National Assembly. There were streams of thoughts speculating that the details of the budget were not presented with the Appropriation Bill and that what was presented to the National Assembly on December 22, 2015 was an empty box. But as issues became clearer, following the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Nigerians got to know that there was an original budget with details submitted on December 22, 2015 which the President later sought to withdraw after discovering a lot of frivolities and mistakes. The silence of the President did not help matters as all shades of opinion rent the air over the magic of a “missing budget.”
Media reports now indicate that instead of following the normal process of writing a letter to the National Assembly to withdraw an already submitted budget, the Presidency sought to do it through the back door – a process that disrespects the legislature and breaches the good faith between the executive and the legislature. Now that the controversy has been resolved, lessons must be drawn for the future and the National Assembly should proceed with the urgent task of scrutinising and approving the budget. One of the fundamental lessons to be drawn from this episode is the need to start the budgeting process in the executive early enough so that there will be no rush towards the end of the year. This will give high-ranking officers of government adequate time to go through the finer details of the budget before submission to the National Assemly. The executive will also lose nothing by employing the service of outside experts who have the eagle eyes to screen out frivolities and inappropriate expenditure before the appropriation bill is submitted to the National Assembly.
Now, back to the task we started last week which was to draw attention to some frivolous, inappropriate and wasteful expenditure in the 2016 budget proposals. The budget that has now been uploaded to the website of the Budget Office of the Federation is slightly different in the votes of the Presidency from the previous available one.
Service Wide Votes contain a lot of inappropriate expenditure and its continued retention is a cause for concern. Various experts had called for its scrapping before now. The codes, the items and amount are stated in that order. We have 22020605 being Security Vote (including operations) in the sum of N15bn; 22021008 for Subscription to professional bodies in the sum of N208m; 22021019 for Muslim/Christian Pilgrimages in the sum of N500m; 22021020 is for Election -Logistics support in the sum of N500m; 22021035 is for the IPPIS in the sum of N5bn. The request for a Security Vote of N15bn in a time like this sets the agenda for expenses that would not be accounted for to the Nigerian public or at best, may be a slush fund. Insisting on funding pilgrimages when our constitution forbids the adoption of a state religion and after setting aside votes for the Muslim (N859.8m) and Christian Pilgrims Boards (N945.8m) is a waste of public resources. I dare state that it is an illegal expenditure which discriminates against persons who are not members of the two religions. What is election logistics support that cannot be domiciled with the Independent National Electoral Commission? It is not proper that INEC will be organising elections and someone else is managing the logistics. If per chance, this money is meant for security agencies working on elections, why not add the amount to their votes? Why should it be managed separately?
Subscription to professional bodies in the sum of N208m comes after the same provision has been made for the MDAs in their respective estimates. For instance, in Code 220210008, N265.1m was provided for the same in the vote of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The idea of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System has become a recurring decimal for getting resources out of the treasury every year. How many years since 2006 will it take to complete the integration and how much does it cost to do the yearly update? Clearly, N5bn is in excess of what is required and Nigerians need to be told what exactly had been done with previous appropriations running into tens of billions of naira.
Code 23050116 is for the Sustainable Development Goals monitoring and evaluation in the sum of N1.581bn; 23050118 is for communications and advocacy (MDG) reporting 2011 MDG in the sum of N427m: 23050140 is for Special Intervention 1 on the MDGs 1 for N1.468bn; 23050168 is for transition to the SDGs in the sum of N1.109bn; 23050169 is made available for the SDG Programmes in the sum of N5.378bn. All these votes are bloc votes without details which make them open to abuse. Further, dedicating over N1.5bn to monitor and evaluate a total MDG/SDG vote that is less than N9bn is outrageous. The heavens will not fall if these votes are apportioned to agencies that will implement them so that a comprehensive picture of the votes to the MDAs will emerge.
In Code 23050170, the Federal Ministry of Finance gets N500m for special programmes to improve efficiency of spending; 23050144 is for the National Planning Commission (Infrastructure Master Plan) in the sum of N500m; 23050162 is for financing the implementation of the Nigeria Nuclear Power Programme in the sum of N2bn; 23050147 is for Special Intervention/Constituency Projects in the sum of N60bn. The Efficiency Unit in the Ministry of Finance is not an agency but a collection of representatives of existing agencies set up to ensure prudence and value for money in federal spending; what then does it exactly need N500m for? Agencies like the Fiscal Responsibility Commission specifically set up to ensure fiscal discipline and prudence got a paltry vote of N494m which includes a personnel component of N138.4m. In the first place, the Efficiency Unit is a duplication of statutory tasks reserved for the FRC and instead of voting enough resources to support the Commission, resources are filtered away to a nebulous unit not backed by law.
The Infrastructure Master Plan had already been prepared by the previous administration and thus does not require N500m for its fine-tuning (if need be). What is required are sectoral votes to commence implementation and not N500m that is not attached to specific deliverables. For the nuclear programme, it is a pity that Nigerians with their eyes wide open are signing on to a programme that may take lives and property. We neither have the technology nor the manpower to run nuclear power stations and this is coming at a time advanced nations like Germany have set a target date to close all their nuclear plants. This vote is a waste of scarce resources and should be discontinued. Constituency projects vote in the sum of N60bn will only make sense if the projects are aligned to national priorities, which has not been the case since the commencement of the projects. The resources can be deployed to more productive ventures that improve livelihoods rather than massage the ego of legislators.
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