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‘Budget of change’ and reign of frivolities


BuhariIt is another season of controversy, after all, the blades that fan the embers of discord- irregularities, ambiguity, fictitious items, repetitions, excess provisions and frivolities, both real and imagined, persist. The 2016 federal budget, christened budget of change and seeking to lay a foundation for sustainable growth, is now at the centre stage.

About N668.88 billion has been assessed as headed down the drain if no action is urgently taken. The amount is “padded” along the budget items like purchase of cars, welfare packages, software/computer scam, uniforms and clothing, refreshment and meals, subscription to professional bodies, maintenance of office building/residential quarters, budget preparation, residential rent and absence of price database. More often than not, some of these provisions do not even get to the intended, but appropriated by the few.

Laying credence to the assessment, the Federal Government had withdrawn the earlier budget document, while the head of budget office was fired. Still, the President said he is not done with the issue, as the riggers of the national fiscal plan are being investigated. This is not the first of its kind, but what stands out now is the disdain for such impunity. But the question still lingers: “What happens to the inflated figures?”

Perhaps, it is apt to remind ourselves few of the projections of the 2016 budget as planned: Provision of 30 percent of overall budget for capital expenditure; crude oil price benchmark at $38 per barrel (presently below $35); Deficit of N 2.2 trillion (now tilting towards N3 trillion); retained revenue of N3.86 trillion (now sliding backwards to N3 trillion); estimated borrowings at N1.84 trillion (now tending towards N2.5 trillion) and N1.36 trillion debt servicing, which certainly will move upward given any change in debt projections.

For a certainty, no dime of these hard earned and “hard borrowed” resources should be exposed to the unsavoury stories of frivolities and impunity.
“We urge the National Assembly (NASS) to thoroughly review the budget and ensure that any frivolous or inappropriate expenditure is weeded out and when the budget becomes law, NASS should recognise the need for proper oversight on its implementation,” the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, appealed.

Really, there are key issues in the 2016 budget, which have over the years remained part of the national appropriation plan but are frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful expenditure.

The Citizens Wealth Platform, a civil society group, said it always sends copies of its pullout of these estimates every year to every senator and member of the House of Representatives and makes them available to all Nigerians who care as well.

For example, the case against purchase of motor vehicles for public officers is spread across Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs). The question is: How do we determine genuine from frivolous requests? Should NASS demand an inventory of existing vehicles? There is need for justification before every approval. More worrisome is that the demand for vehicles is even specifically tied to some foreign brands.

“This is wrong under the Public Procurement Act as only the functional specifications of a product should be in the budget. Coming at a time of dwindling national resources and the operationalisation of National Automobile Policy, NASS needs to have a clause in the budget to ensure the mainstreaming of local content in budgetary procurement. This will not only spur local economic activities, the companies will pay a higher income tax if they make more profits, put Nigerians in jobs, while at the same time, those employed will pay personal income tax- a win-win scenario,” Onyekpere said.

Should we not begin national re-orientation by practice? It is reasonable that all the requests for a BMW brands from the Presidency and the Prado Sports Utility Vehicles of the American specification to be used as pool cars by the Senate should be replaced by locally produced cars from Peugeot, Innoson Motors, among others.

The quantum of resources budgeted for welfare packages across MDAs are high and it resurfaced again under the change administration. The argument here is that after provisions have been made for personnel expenses, this budget line becomes a doubtful legality and a consideration for removing them from the budget.

The software and computer scam seem to be the new buzzword and approach to get funds out of the treasury, as virtually every MDA made the request. NASS should thoroughly scrutinise the requests and engage experts to determine whether the costs are justifiable. Every MDA presented an estimate for new computers. But this is an annual ritual in national budget, which raises poser over the lifespan of a laptop or desktop computer before it is scrapped. Computers should be approved only on the basis of proven need.

Granted, some government officials need uniforms because of the nature of their services, but not every MDA need uniforms and clothing. So, the requests for uniforms and clothing in the budget need to be reviewed on the basis of need by MDAs. The same goes for refreshment and meals. Should every MDA get a vote for refreshment and meals? This should be reviewed in line with the mandates of MDAs.

Subscription to professional bodies is another recurring vote in every MDA, after a fairly huge sum has been provided under the vote of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) N265.1 million and under the Service Wide Vote (SWV) N208 million. This should be considered on an MDA basis, while the vote in the SGF’s office and SWV reprogrammed for other purposes.

The sums requested by many MDAs under this heading- maintenance of office building/residential quarters are incredible. Sometimes, it is higher than what would have been paid as rent for such building and enough to construct a modest building. This is an avenue to waste scarce resources.

Budget preparation should not be a line item attracting a vote, but part of the core functions of an MDA. People are employed for that purpose and they claimed expertise in that field of endeavour, unless otherwise. NASS shoul consider re-programming the sums voted for budget preparation to other development plans.

Residential rent as a line item in the budget raises so many issues. Where are we at the moment with the monetisation programme? Is anyone allowed to enjoy the monetised package while still demanding the same services to be paid out of the budget? NASS should enforce the monetisation law and stop these demands.

Different MDAs are putting up different estimates for the same item across public offices due to the absence of price database. It seems there is no updated standard price database that should be used by MDAs in preparing the yearly budget estimates. NASS should therefore, mandate the Bureau of Public Procurement to ensure an update to any existing database and if it had existed in papers, it should be made practical now. Indeed, a good number of requests in the past, even now are based on arbitrary, as well as excessive prices.

In a statement from the Citizens Wealth Platform, “the share of administrative capital to developmental capital is on the high side considering a good number of the foregoing requests from MDAs. Monies freed from the wasteful expenditure should be re-channelled to developmental capital expenditure.

“The Budget Office of the Federation needs to be moved to prepare MDA specific templates for budget preparation rather than the current omnibus template where everyone asks for the same line items whether needed or not.”

Summarily, N668.88 is on the line. How much the country is able to save from the assessment would depend on how fast, meticulous and determined those saddled with the task will be in an effort to rid off these anomalies. They have been identified as resources to be saved and re-programmed. It is only left government to do the needful for public interest.

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