…militants N54bn, Armed Forces, police N46bn
***Saraki flays Appropriation Bill, tasks N’Assembly
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Bukola Saraki, has faulted several aspects of the 2014 Appropriation Bill, saying that the document failed to give priority to critical sectors and a blueprint for fiscal recklessness and leakages in government expenditure.
Of particular concern is the misplacement of prorities demonstrated in the allocation of N54bn to Niger Delta Militants under the Presidential Amnesty Programme while the Military and Police got just N46bn in capital allocations.
He also noted the dangers of increased extra-budgetary spending and the impunity with which agencies, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, spent public funds and serial breaches of budget implementation rules by civil servants.
Saraki, in a critical appraisal of the budget posted on his website, expressed regret that the budget process had become a mere procedural ritual designed to fulfil a legal condition rather than a scrutiny on efficient resource allocation and use for the welfare of the people.
For example, under the defence and security allocations, the lawmaker noted that N54bn was budgeted for stipends and allowances for 30,000 Niger Delta militants under the Presidential Amnesty Programme (N23.6bn) and Reintegration of Transformed Ex-Militants’ (N35.4bn), while the total capital budget for the Nigerian Army was N4.8bn and capital budget for the Ministry of Defence Headquarters – Army, Navy and Air Force – was N34.2bn.
“The budget proposal rewards banditry and encourages militancy at the expense of the fighting men and women of the Nigerian military,” he said.
He also noted that the budget proposals were skewed in favour of recurrent expenditure rather than capital votes
The senator, who noted instances where capital expenditures were more or less efficiently appropriated in the Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development with N35.1bn allocation to capital and N31.4bn to recurrent; Water Resources, N30.6bn to capital and N7.7bn to recurrent; power, N59bn and N3.3bn to capital and recurrent expenditures respectively and a few others such as transport, works, aviation, lands and housing, added that some capital expenditure items were questionable at best.
Saraki, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, queried the proposal to purchase desktop computers for N2m each under the budget of the Ministry of Education, when the market prices to purchase a unit was N200,000. The Ministry of Works, he said, proposed to buy desktops at N1m per unit.
He described the 2014 budget process as the last opportunity for the National Assembly to rise up to its constitutional responsibility by critically looking into the Bill and ensure that avenues for fiscal recklessness were controlled.
The legislator specifically lamented low percentage of capital budget implementation even as the profile of extra-budgetary expenditures continued to rise, pointing out that the National Assembly needed to rein in public expenditure and ensure probity through budgeting and oversight.
The lawmaker listed 42 MDAs as having higher recurrent allocations than capital to include the Ministry of Interior, which is expected to spend N144.7bn in recurrent and just N6.29bn on capital; police formation and commands, N285.5bn on recurrent and N6.79bn capital; education, including UBEC, N443.9bn on recurrent and N49.5bn on capital and health, N216.4bn on recurrent and N46.3bn on capital expenditures.
According to him, “A cursory appraisal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated plans to spend money for the maintenance of plants and generators in several of our foreign missions, including the one in London, even as the headquarters would spend N201.7m for fumigation and cleaning services during the year.”
He identified some other provisions that illustrated misplaced priorities in the Appropriation Bill to include, construction of a VIP Wing at the State House Clinic at N705m while the total Capital Budget for Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital was N328m; University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital proposed (N310m), NOMA Children Hospital, Sokoto (N89m) and zero capital budget for the Institute of Child Health, University of Benin Teaching Hospital.
“It is clear from the foregoing that to the formulators of the budget, the VIP Wing at the State House clinic is superior in terms of cost, priority and efficient allocation of resources to two teaching hospitals, a National Children’s Hospital and a Paediatric Research Institute combined,” Saraki said.
The former governor of Kwara State bemoaned the increasing impunity with which agencies, including the NNPC, which he said was a “paralleled government”, spent public funds without authorisation.
He, however, blamed the executive and the legislature for lapses in budget implementation, particularly the lack of right integrity assurance value it deserves.
He said: “Let’s be frank and admit that our budget process has been inadequate. And a lot of the failure of the budgets in the past cannot be completely ascribed to the executive alone. We too have a low pass mark on the budget ourselves, as we have not guarded our budget process effectively and have shielded away from vesting it with the right integrity assurance value it deserves.
“Today, we have a situation where even civil servants find no hesitation in abusing the provisions of the budget with impunity. This 2014 budget may be our last opportunity to redeem ourselves and correct this budget anomaly. If we don’t seize this opportunity and put things right soon it may begin to appear that National Assembly budget no longer matter. Why do I say so?
“In recent years we have seen a growing trend where the budget is scorned and hardly executed above 50 per cent. Take the 2012 and 2013 budgets for instance, the percentage of implementation of the 2012 and 2013 budget has continued to dwindle while the level of extra-budgetary expenditure in the system unauthorised either by the Appropriation Act or any other Act of the National Assembly has continued to rise.
“It is the duty of the National assembly to rein in public expenditure and ensure probity through budgeting and oversight. It is an open secret that the levels of public revenues expended through extra-budgetary means have continued to grow at a frightening dimension,” the lawmaker added.
Expatiating on what amounted to abuse of the budget process in the subsidy on kerosene, Saraki queried the expenditure of N700m daily on kerosene as well as the $10bn missing money, which NNPC claimed it had spent, even when there was no line item on the budget for kerosene subsidy in the 2013 budget.
“How is it that this barefaced fleecing of the country and an unapologetic violation of the budget of this magnitude continue without any response from the National Assembly?,” the lawmaker said.
Saraki described the unauthorised $10bn expenditure by the NNPC as spending of public revenue without appropriation and that the amount was far in excess of the national capital budget for the year 2014.
He added that no one would have known about the unauthorised expenditure and NNPC would not have bothered to explain if there was an enquiry over revenue shortfalls.
The ex-governor said: “Indeed, it is fair to say that what we have today is that we have two parallel government budgets, one that is authorised by the National Assembly and another running as extrabudget expenditures.
“Part of the problem in my view is the process of budgeting. Our budget process lacks thorough scrutiny and deliberation and there is no consequence for budget violation- a matter considered high crime in other countries.
“My attitude is this, if we the National Assembly, make the mistake of going into the 2014 the same way we have been doing we are doomed to fail. We must open our budget process a little further to allow for deliberation and scrutiny.”
According to him, it has now become the norm for third parties to infiltrate the budget process and inject things into the budget but it is happening and can happen again at any point of the budget process, either during passage or implementation.
He noted that a situation where an agency of government could, “without qualms and bare-facedly” claimed to spend in extrabudgetary discretion the sum of $10bn an amount far greater than the entire federal capital budget for all government agencies and programmes, including education, health, roads, aviation, power, for the year in a manner that the National Assembly has no say about, calls to question the relevance of the National Assembly in the revenue and expenditure process of our governance and more so whether the 1999 Constitution is the source of all authority in Nigeria
Saraki said while admitting that the Executive has a pivotal role to play, the Constitution recognises the danger of allowing such a very important and onerous duty to be performed only by the Executive and demanded rightfully that the National Assembly, the representative of the people, approve the budget