‘It’s An Opportunity For The Presidency To Retool The Budgeting Process’
Immediate past president general, Trade Union Congress (TUC) Comrade Peter Esele speaks on the 2016 budget impasse, and other topical issues.
What is your position on the 2016 budget proposal scandal?
I AM not surprised because the scandal is not new in the country’s budget. It has been a recurring decimal in our budget planning. Why there has been so much public outcry over this year’s budget padding is because the media and other experts are now paying serious attention to budgeting in the country.
In the last three years, the attention given to various budgets in the country especially at the centre has increased. People are now ready to hold those in power accountable. You can’t tell the people to tighten their belts, while yours is loose. Our budgetary process is all about copy and paste.
The problem is mainly due to lack of stronger institutions. Our various institutions are too weak and successive governments have weakened it more for their own selfish advantage. Padding of budget can only be possible in a society like ours where there is no proper planning or procedures.
How do we explain the procurement of computers in almost all the Ministries, Departments, Agencies, (MDAs) every year? Cars and other utilities are brazenly procured, year in, year out. In private companies, such procurements are done every four to five years with depreciation value hovering between 20 to 25%. If you are in doubt go and check out our budget since 1999. You will see the same item every year. Those behind the padding are now emboldened to add Aso Rock’s rent. Perpetuation of this fraudulent practice is only getting longer and bigger.
What do you think is responsible for such fraudulent practice in the budget planning?
The problem is mainly due to lack of stronger institutions. Our various institutions are too weak and successive governments have weakened it more for their own selfish advantage. Padding of budget can only be possible in a society like ours where there is no proper planning or procedures. There are no data to help in various assumptions and proper evaluation of our previous budgets to guide the preparation of the next one.
Unfortunately, these data are deliberately never made available. Non-availability of it subjects our budgeting processes to human manipulation and support the copy and paste syndrome that are prevalent in the Federal and State budgeting processes.
What is your reaction to the Senate’s decision to adjourn deliberation on the budget indefinite?
It is very unfortunate and uncalled for. The present National Assembly members have done well by pointing out the infractions in the budget. They shouldn’t ruin it by acting insensitive to the yearnings of Nigerians to have a budget urgently.
Adjourning indefinite means dereliction of duties. They should courageously and patiently look into the budget critically, identify all the lapses and work with the executive to produce a workable budget for the country as soon as possible. They should be mindful of the fact that it is their responsibility to appropriate. If they are not satisfy with any allocation, they can make the necessary correction towards ensuring that there is value for money appropriated by the executive arm of government.
They have to make the passage of the budget a priority after all the padding is removed. The economy is at a standstill now. Individuals and business organisations can’t plan, because there is no economic direction. Any further delay in tiding and passage of the budget may be catastrophic, because Nigerians are running out of patience.
What do you expect the Presidency to do at this point?
I know the whole thing must have been a huge embarrassment to President Muhammadu Buhari. He must look beyond the embarrassment, anger and pain and see opportunity in it to address the age-long mess surrounding budget planning in the country.
This is a window for him to retool the entire budgeting process of the Federal Government.
The country must have a budgetary process model devoid of manipulation. If we can’t generate one we can borrow from other countries, model it and stick to it.