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The 316 duplicated projects in 2021 budget

By Editorial Board
24 May 2021   |   4:04 am
The reported incidence of duplicated projects in the 2021 federal budget calls to question the competence of the National Assembly in playing their constitutional role of ensuring that public funds are judiciously appropriated.

[FILES] President Muhammadu Buhari Presentimh the 2021 Budget at the Joint Sitting of the National Assembly Abuja. PHOTO Philip Ojisua

The reported incidence of duplicated projects in the 2021 federal budget calls to question the competence of the National Assembly in playing their constitutional role of ensuring that public funds are judiciously appropriated. Beyond that, it exposes big loopholes through which public funds are either mismanaged or corruptly appropriated; and a reason the country has remained regressive in development indices. It is shameful and disheartening that this kind of wastage of public resources, whether deliberate or unintended, has gone unabated for many years. The relevant agencies of the Federal Government should respond to this reported lapse with a view to correcting it and preventing its recurrence.

A recent report by BudgIT, a public finance transparency advocacy firm, indicates that more than 316 duplicated capital projects worth N39.5 billion are contained in the 2021 federal budget. If this report, as presented is true, then there is a cause for concern in the efficient management of the country’s scarce resources. The country has been battling with lots of fiscal challenges of poor revenue streams and heavy public debt burden and thus should not be bedevilled with this new phenomenon of duplicated capital project in its fiscal management. It is a case of “adding salt to injury.”

This revelation is shocking given that budget estimates by the Executive arm of government go through the scrutiny of both houses of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is shocking that these duplications took place irrespective of the fact that there is always a point of convergence of budget estimates emanating from the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) of government, particularly after the respective Committees of the House and Senate might have scrutinised the figures. The BudgIT report indicates that 115 of the discovered duplicated projects occurred for the Ministry of Health. This is a ministry with very poor health infrastructure that has been seriously challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic’s demands and pressures. With such duplications in the Health sector, what happened to the monies voted for projects in the ministry? Some persons may need to answer questions in this regard.

The report also indicated that there were zero audit records of the N10.02 trillion received by the security sector between 2015 and 2021. Many of the agencies of government were reported to have received votes for “security charges” as well as for “security votes,” totalling about N24.3 billion for the agencies. Lots of loopholes were found in budget creation and implementation process that need to be blocked. Other shocking revelations from the report are that some agencies received allocations for capital projects they cannot execute. Lots of questions arise on these revelations. Given that the assumption that the figures and claims in the BudgIT report are well substantiated, then many officers, right from the Budget Office to the chairmen of the Appropriation Committees of the two arms of the National Assembly have some explanations to make in this regard. First, how did these cases of duplication of projects in the budget take place? Are the lawmakers privy to the duplications? Is there any form of connivance on these duplications? Or is it a case of inefficiency or incompetence?

These developments speak of mediocrity in the proposal, approval and implementation of the budget process. Really, the National Assembly has some measure of indictment here. Irrespective of the nature of the submissions made by the Executive arm of government on any budget item in the annual budget, the onus rests on the National Assembly to do proper due diligence in the passage of the budget.

It seems this was not the case given the revelations in the BudgIT report. There have been stories of monies changing hands in the budget approval process when the heads of MDAs come for budget defence. It is rumoured that these heads of MDAs would have to do the needful before their proposals can be approved. It is also rumoured that the defence of budgets is an annual jamboree and harvest for legislators where the agencies would have to “play ball” else their proposals would be drastically slashed by the legislators. It would then seem that heads of MDAs who understand the game and do what is necessary, hardly lose out on any proposals that they present. In that case, even if they present duplicated projects, these are likely to scale through the approval process without loss.

This scenario needs to be rebutted by the National Assembly, because if true, it indicates a lack of thoroughness and transparency in the budget approval process. Where then is the oversight of the House of Representatives and the Senate? Are the legislators in these houses sleeping on duty and shirking their constitutional responsibilities? The BudgIT report vindicates charges of corruption often made by many stakeholders in the management of the country’s resources, particularly during the budget approval process. In years past, it was “budget padding;” now the new kid on the block is “capital project duplication.” This breeds financing recklessness and maladministration of the budget process. The National Assembly should live up to its oversight function which is a constitutional responsibility in the passing of the annual budgets. Nigeria will remain a poor nation so long as public officers remain injudicious in their spending of public funds.