2017 Budget: Expensive government and dubious allocations

Posted by News Express | 28 June 2017 | 2,614 times

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The Business Dictionary defines budget as: “An estimate of costs, revenues, and resources over a specified period, reflecting a reading of future financial conditions and goals.” The online business dictionary also affirmed that budget is one of the most important administrative tools.  A budget, it argued, serves also as a plan of action for achieving quantified objectives, standard for measuring performance, and as a device for coping with foreseeable adverse situation.

In Nigeria, just like in most other democracies, the budgeting process is captured in relevant sections of the nation’s supreme body of laws known in our own case as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

Beginning from section 80 and ending somewhat in section 83 of the constitution, the laws are provided on how to prepare, adopt and implement the budget. Section 81 (1) (2) (3) and (4) talks much more in a detailed form about the issue of the budgeting process, thus: “81 (1) The president shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly, at any time in each financial year, estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federal Government for the next following financial year.

(2) “The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation by this constitution) shall be included in a bill to be known as an Appropriation Bill, providing for the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein."

Sub-section 3 states: “ Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the consolidated revenue fund of the federation shall be paid directly to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the federation and the states under section 6 of this constitution.”

Also sub-section 4 provides: “If, in respect of any financial year, it is found that - (a) The amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient; or (b) A need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act, a supplementary estimates showing the sums required shall be laid before each house of the National Assembly and heads of any such expenditure shall be included in a supplementary appropriation bill."

But, if we must tell ourselves the hard truth, the successive governments and the current government have never complied with the provisions of the successive budgets, especially in the implementation of the capital components of the budgets of each year. Budgets are viewed as mere rituals. This is why politicians waste man-hours arguing meaninglessly over which sub-heads should enjoy significant padding.  Some geopolitical areas like the South-east of Nigeria is often maginalised in the allocation of capital budgets. This year isn't different. 

Also, a sad characteristic of the kind of budgets that the Nigerian federal and state administrations have implemented over the years have also considered recurrent expenditure as much more strategic than the capital components.

The danger in spending so much servicing government's bloated bureaucracies, to the detriment of building enduring capital projects that would sustainably elevate the state of infrastructure in Nigeria is that poverty has continued to balloon out of control. Now, we have young Nigerians starving and moving from place to place in search of means of livelihoods.

In the last two years of the current administration, the economy nose-dived into depression, or is it economic recession? As I write, the Statistician-General of Federation was quoted in a section of the press as saying that Nigeria will be out of recession next year. But from all indications, majority of the struggling masses aren't sure of how this recession would end.

To make matters worse, 2017 budget has only just been signed into law by the Acting President Prof Yemi Osinbanjo. This means that the budget would have only become operational half-way into the year. 

This is abysmal and unfortunate, if you ask me.

As if the delay in passing and signing the budget is not enough, the 2017 budget guidelines shows that the current government is not pro-poor, but pro-rich, going by the high volume of cash that would be funnelled to service the large number of political office-holders at the centre. Most ministers are serviced by over a dozen assistants, even as an average cabinet-level appointee moves in a convoy of six exotic Special Utility Vehicles, all at public cost. 

These federal officials embark on meaningless foreign trips, all at public expenses. The people are shortchanged. 

The Presidency also enjoys the luxury of having multiple special assistants, some of who have their duties clashing with each other. 

Presidency officials enjoy the privilege of embarking on several health tourisms abroad, at high cost to the national treasury. 

It can then be said that what we have in place is not a lean, but a bogus and highly-expensive government at the federal level. It is still business-as-usual, because the cost of governance has continued to skyrocket. 

The evidence of this high cost of governance was made manifest at a session for the presentation of the breakdown of the 2017 budget, by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  

From a handbook of the 2017 budget, which was distributed during the budget breakdown by the Budget Office of the Federation, and  dubiously dubbed - A Citizens Guide to Understanding the Federal Government of Nigeria's 2017 Budget of Recovery  and Growth - one glaring fact is that there is no plan embedded in the budget on how to revive the moribund or dysfunctional productive sector of the economy.

There is also clear absence of a workable blueprint to create the enabling environment for youth employment. Right now the rate of unemployment is frightening, which has led to the escalation of social vices of sophisticated nature. 

This pathetic fact emanates from the disclosure that recurrent (non-debt) spending would cost us a whooping N2.99 trillion, whereas only a paltry N2.36 trillion is being allocated for capital expenditure (including transfers). So, we still have a ballooning cost of servicing the salaries and fat allowances of political office-holders. 

The National Assembly with less than 400 Nigerians allocated N125 billion to themselves for the year. 

These privileged few will also be paid hazard allowances even when each of them have cornered a battalion of armed police for their private security, but public schools are at the risk of constant invasions from armed kidnappers. Since three weeks now, a school in Lagos was invaded by kidnappers and over 12 students were kidnapped. Till date, these children are still being tortured because their parents can't afford the N100 million ransom being demanded by the dare-devil kidnappers.  

So how does this Federal Government intend to constructively engage the millions of jobless youths searching frantically for elusive jobs?

Is an idle mind no longer the devil's workshop?

To tell you the truth, the 2017 budget, like all others before it, is basically targeted at servicing the rich and those privileged class of politicians in the corridors-of-power.

The 2017 budget, christened ‘Budget of Growth and Recovery’, presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 14, 2016; which took six months to be passed, and signed shows that the State House Allocation for the fiscal year would be N42 billion, with expenditure on food, cooking gas and kitchen utensils expected to gulp well over N850 million. Specifically, N100, 820,300 would be spent for the purchase of kitchen utensils such as forks and knives for use in Aso Rock

So where are the kitchen utensils bought last year? Were they all stolen by the privileged guests of Aso Rock Villa?

The budget document indicated three expenditure items that relate to food and feeding: namely, food stuff and catering material, purchase of canteen and kitchen equipment.

The budget breakdown further shows that the Office of the Vice President will spend N53, 494,992 on food stuff; N12,470,000 on kitchen utensils, while N246 million would be spent on cooking gas.

The expected food-related expenditure for Office of the Chief of Staff is N16, 282,000 while Lagos Liaison Office of the Presidency will devote N140, 418,300 on food and food-related items in the 2017 fiscal year.

The maintenance of infrastructure and technical facilities in the Defence House and other Safe Houses would gulp N367.980 million, while the rehabilitation and infrastructure of security quarters in the Villa would take N284.587 million

From the section that relates to capital allocations to ministries and government agencies at the national level, one laughable aspect is the youth and sports component, which gets just N5.44 billion while health gets just N55.61 billion. 

The government - which is headed by President Muhammadu Buhari that has visited foreign hospitals many times and is now in a London hospital  to receive health-care -  claims in the document, that it is budgeting N9 billion for venture investments in tertiary institution in Nigerian sovereign investment authority, to bring up a programme to reverse out of bounds medical tourism. What sort of naked lie is this?

One more funny dimension of this 2017 budget is the disparity between the statutory transfers made to the near-moribund Public Complaints Commission (PCC) and the ubiquitous National Human Rights Commission.

 While the Public Complaints Commission controlled by the senate secured a whopping N4 billion, the National Human Rights Commission that is independent gets only N1.2 billion.

This writer thinks that the only pro-poor component of this year’s budget is the new Social Housing Programme, which got N100 billion provision towards a N1 trillion fund. The only snag is that this programme may be hijacked by politicians, just as the Federal Mortgage Bank was hijacked by the elite. After all, the public school feeding programme in some states have been hijacked by wives of governors. 

As far as I am concerned, this 2017 budget is more of a package budgeted by the rich for the rich government officials

We need to invest more in our youth to build up their capacity because manpower, when fully capacitated with 21st century information technology skills, can go a long way to making Nigeria a rich economy.  

Nigeria must invest more in building sports facilities and in the training of young talents right from the grassroots, because sports is now big business. 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source: News Express

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