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2017 budget and the expensive government

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

 

The business dictionary defined 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 of 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.”

 

Subsection (3) states that: “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 for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the federation and the state under section 6 of this constitution”.

 

Also subsection (4) provides that; “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 this 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 the politicians waste man-hours arguing meaninglessly over which subheads should enjoy significant padding.  Some geopolitical areas like the South East of Nigeria are often marginalized 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 Nigeria’s economy nosedived into depression or is it economic recession and as i write the Statistician general of Nigeria was quoted in a section of the press as telling Nigerians 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, the 2017 budget has only just been signed into law by the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

 

This means that the year 2017 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 funneled to service the large number of political office holders at the center.

 

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 costs.

 

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

 

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

 

The Presidency officials enjoy the privilege of embarking on several health tourism abroad at high costs 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 costs of governance have continued to skyrocket.

 

The evidence of this high cost of governance was made manifest today at a session for the presentation of the breakdowns of the 2017 budget by the Nigerian government.

 

From a handbook of the year 2017 budget which was distributed today during the budget breakdown by the budget office of the Federation, which was 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 this budget on how to revive the moribund or dysfunctional productive sector of the economy.

 

There is also a 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 crime 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 transfer).

 

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 were allocated N125 billion 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 risks of constant invasions from armed kidnappers.

 

Since three weeks now a school in Lagos was invaded by kidnappers and over one dozen students were kidnapped and till date these children are still being tortured because their parents can’t afford the N100 million ransom bill given by these dare devil kidnappers.

 

So how does this federal government intend to constructively engage the millions of jobless youth searching frantically for the elusive white collar jobs?

 

Is the idle mind no longer the devil’s workshop?

 

To tell you the truth, this 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 Buhari on December 14, which took six months to be passed and signed shows that the State House budget 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 is 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 materials purchase of canteen and kitchen equipment.

 

The budget breakdown further shows that the Office of the Vice President will spend N53, 494,992 million on food stuff, N12,470,000 on kitchen utensils while N246,000 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 whilst 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 Nigeria sovereign investment authority to bring up a programme to reverse out of bound 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.

 

Whilst the public complaints commission controlled by the senate secured a whooping N4 billion, the national human rights commission that is independent only gets N 1.2 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 provisioned for a new social housing programme towards an N 1 trillion fund.

 

The only snag is that this programme may be hijacked by politicians just like how 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 and 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 make 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.

 

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.comwww.huriwa@blogspot.com.

 


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