• Tony Igele

Outrage As N145b Questionable items Remain in 2017 budget

There is the fear that a huge part of the funds borrowed to execute the 2017 budget may end up in private pockets, as no less than 276 questionable items from 55 agencies still remain in the document.

The controversial items, estimated at nearly half of the $1billion Eurobond proceeds, appear in the form of duplications, repetitions and inexplicable headings in the 2017 budget.

The expected budget performance and national development will remain elusive, while the country would have committed future generations into debt that benefitted a few individuals who diverted the funds into their private pockets. Moreover, the provisions appear to be a template that is represented on a yearly basis, thereby paving the way for the misappropriation of the scarce resources that could have been deployed for other uses.

The Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, at the 2017 Civil Society Summit on the Federal Budget in Abuja, had said such an anomaly could only be traced in the former document presented, not the one currently being considered by the National Assembly.

But there are indications that these questionable provisions remain in the national fiscal document for 2017, especially in proposals by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) like Budget and National Planning; Works, Power and Housing; State House Headquarters; Health; Water Resources; and Transport leading the pack. Others are Hajj Commission; Education; Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; and Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

Nigeria is in recession, leading to a fall in living standards. The citizens now live on the margins, which makes it imperative for all borrowed money to count.

For Dr. Olalekan Obademi of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos, this is another litmus test for the lawmakers to examine all items and ask for the economic justification.

“Frivolities and duplications have been the hallmark of Nigeria’s burger over the years, with no one to be held responsible. If this trend continues in the current budget, there is no doubt that only a few will smile, leaving the majority in failed expectations again,” he said.

Raising concern over the use of the borrowed money to implement the budget, he said there was the need for government to come out clear on its recoveries and the specific projects they would be used to execute.

Dr. Uzochukwu Amakom of the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, said if the controversial items were allowed to pass, there would not be a basis for the acclaimed change.

“First, I have always been skeptical about borrowing, not that it is bad, but the crowding out effect on private sector and mostly, the implementation. This estimated figure is nearly half of the Eurobond proceeds. As you may know, a budget like this is dead on arrival because it has been the bane of development in this country,” he said.

To the Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, at this period of great economic uncertainty, the federal budget, along with other economic policy instruments, is supposed to provide a guide out of the current economic quagmire.

“The budget estimates are not anchored on any discernible policy plank. We still have a budget suffused with frivolities, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful expenditure. Every Ministry, Department and Agency (MDA) seems to be budgeting like business as usual. High-level policy documents are not resonating through the budget estimates.

“The annual ritual of demanding computers and software, bloated refreshment and meals, and purchase of vehicles is still the norm. Every MDA wants a vote for annual budget expenses and administration after provisions have been made for their personnel costs which should have covered this demand,” he said.

Also, Fidelis Onyjegbu of Public Finance Management at CSJ lamented the demand for new vehicles without an explanation of what happened to the pool of existing vehicles. He described the situation as an opportunity to fritter funds.

“To worsen matters, MDAs are breaking the public procurement rules by demanding specific brands of foreign cars at a time the executive and legislature are championing the ‘Buy-Made-in- Nigeria’ campaign. Top of MDAs doing this is the Presidency/State House.”

Also, Dr. David Agu of the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, queried the rationale for the allocation of more than N1.33 trillion to the budget ministry.

“These leaders must explain in words and action, whose interest they are serving- the few or the majority. It is startling to have N901.2 billion recurrent expenditure and N426.3 billion capital expenditure in a ministry that is more of service offering, than project execution.

This demands a clear explanation to Nigerians. “The budget needs to be reworked to focus on pro-poor priorities; creating an enabling environment for improved production and service delivery; reducing inequality and increasing national wealth. Nigerians demand leadership by example from the executive, legislature and the judiciary,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate has condemned what it described as double budgeting and padding in the budget proposal of the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing.At a budget defence session in the National Assembly yesterday, the Senate Committee on Housing expressed shock that despite the provision of N41.9 billion for the National Housing Programme in the budget, another strange N2 billion was planted in the document for a non-existing regional housing scheme.

When the committee subjected the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola to a series of questions over the strange provision, he disowned the N2 billion allegedly voted for regional housing scheme by the Ministry of Finance out of the N64.991billioin budgetary proposals for the housing sector this year.

Fashola told the committee that the Ministry of Finance put it into the 2017 budgetary profile of the Ministry of Housing as its own initiative.

“I do not know as much of it as you do because it is not our initiative.” “I do not know as much of it as you do because it is not our initiative,”

Fashola told the committee presided over by Barnabas Gemade (APC Benue North East).Consequently, the committee ordered its clerk to write the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun to appear before it for an explanation on the questionable vote.

Also yesterday, the House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara inaugurated a 12- member panel to begin engagements with relevant agencies of government on possible ways of dealing with the recession in the country.

The ad hoc committee headed by Olabode Ayorinde is to find out how the nation slipped into the economic mess before recommending measures for getting out of it.

Inaugurating the panel, known as Tactical Committee on Economic Recession, Dogara said engagements with the executive were crucial at this time, as the government was appearing helpless in the face of the huge job losses, low economic activities and intense hardships being experienced by Nigerians.

He said the decision of the House followed its resolve at its inauguration in March 2015 to consistently collaborate with the government in checking and balancing the executive.

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