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On a yearly basis, Nigerians look forward to the presentation of the budget estimates by the President to the National Assembly. Hopes and expectations of a new lease of life, improvements in the economy and living standards are raised by the presentation and the fabled speeches made by Presidents on the occasion. Previous budgets have been named budgets of hope, growth, consolidation, transformation, etc. The extant 2017 Appropriation Bill awaiting approval by the National Assembly is named a budget of recovery and growth. It recognises that Nigeria is in a recession, in dire straits and proposes measures the government believes will facilitate the end of the gloom and thereby transform it to economic growth and boom.
Over the years, the country has faced the challenge of value for money in public finance management. Budgetary provisions could not be reconciled with the policy thrusts announced by the President whilst the three key components of economy, efficiency and effectiveness were ignored in budgeting. Various dictionaries and Wikipedia have explained economy to be “a good business operation that minimises costs. Efficiency is the (often measurable) ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money, and time in doing something or in producing a desired result. In a more general sense, it is the ability to do things well, successfully, and without waste. It signifies a level of performance that describes a process that uses the lowest amount of inputs to create the greatest amount of outputs.Effectiveness is the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result; success”. Nigeria’s budgetary provisions cannot qualify to be described in these glowing terms. Nigeria’s federal budgets therefore contained a high dose of frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful expenditure items. Some of the items, apart from being wasteful, were illegal and unconstitutional. In fact, some of the expenditure heads could not be reconciled with common sense as no man, woman, youth or adult will spend his personal money on any of those expenditure heads. But we continued with business as usual because the resources belonged to everyone and no one.
The 2017 federal budget estimates seem to continue this tradition despite the administration’s change mantra. We are still deploying over N2.4bn of our scare resources to fund pilgrimages to the Christian and Muslim holy lands despite the constitutional bar against adopting a state religion. This is a service not available to people of faiths other than the aforementioned two. How can we explain away the State House obsession with kitchen equipment every year? Last year, the demand was for N80.2m and in 2017, it climbed to N100.8m. Do we need to change kitchen utensils and equipment every year? Rehabilitation and repairs of fixed assets gets N5.8bn with routine maintenance gulping N4.9bn. The State House must buy new vehicles every year and vote outrageous sums for honorarium and sitting allowances (N556.5m). All these votes are just under the very nose of the Spartan President who is supposed to lead by example.
In the estimates of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, we have an unclear vote for “Discipline and appointment (service wide)” in the sum of N500m. What exactly is this vote for, apparently only known to those who inserted it in the estimates? Almost every agency demands money for computers and software in the usual tradition of looking for ways to get money out of the treasury for wrong purposes. The same MDAs are asking for different sums of money to prepare their budgets when in fact they have the personnel and resources to undertake the assignment without extra public funds. Yet, the same agencies have been trained in various public finance management reforms at the public expense.
A new phrase “governance and institutional reforms” has been introduced into the 2017 estimates. For this new phrase, the headquarters of the Ministry of Transportation got N560.3m, National Inland Waterway got N100m and the Ministry of Water Resources got N2.2bn.For the same purpose, the Ministry of Health is asking for N6.6bn. This provision for governance and institutional reforms is different from a provision of N34m for the National Urban Transport policy. There is another provision for “automation of the functions and office process of the Transportation Ministry” which got N136m. The same Transportation Ministry is to spend N209.8m in monitoring and evaluation which is different from another provision for “Servicom monitoring of compliance in service delivery” for N54.1m. This is still different from the provision for capital budget monitoring/implementation by the Budget Office of the Federation and the Ministry in the sum of N88.4m.Three different provisions for monitoring and evaluation in one Ministry!
There is another N134.7m in what is termed “Operation of the programme” in the Ministry of Transportation. The poser is: Which programme? The programme is one that is known only by the ministry. Performance audit for agencies in the Transportation ministry namely the NPA, NIMASA, Shippers Council and MAN Oron is to gulp N1.1bn. In all these, the clear impression is created that the political class and civil servants play with words to deceive the uninitiated so as to get different sums of money out of the treasury for the same purpose.What exactly are governance and institutional reforms that are different from all the specifically listed items? The Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission demands N50m to produce its bill whilst its parent Ministry of Water Resources demands N516m for promotion of advocacy on household sanitation and hygiene in the rural areas. The purpose of the last two estimates can be achieved with far less than the estimates.
The Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission has an estimate of N633m for nuclear power plant planning site characterisation and selection. We are dreaming of building a nuclear power plant at a time we have shown incapacity in managing ordinary gas fired power generating plants. This is also coming at a time some nuclear powers are closing down their nuclear plants. If Nigeria is insisting on committing mass suicide, the country should continue on this part. Other reasonable nations are now engaged in mainstreaming renewable energy with all the benefits of creating new jobs and reducing the carbon footprints in their economy.
These budgetary estimates have been made by an administration that set up an efficiency unit which got a vote of N500m in the 2016 approved federal budget. There can be no better time than now for the National Assembly to use the parametres of value for money in approving the estimates and ensure that frivolities, inappropriate, wasteful and unclear estimates are weeded out from President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2017 budget before its approval and sending for presidential assent. It is the duty of the legislature to hold the executive accountable to the Nigerian people especially at this time when it appears there is a prima facie evidence that the political class and civil servants are collaborating to mismanage public resources.