Friday, February 12, 2016 4:18 pm
The Buhari administration came under fire of public opinion over its first budget proposal the same week it faced its first national dissent over increase in electricity tariffs. The honeymoon is gradually getting over for the APC administration as Nigerians demand for dividends of the change.
Like a pick pocket caught in the midst of the action, the less than 10 months old Muhammadu Buhari administration had no choice, but to admit that it had made a mess of its first Appropriation Bill. Charles Dafe, Director of Information in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning in statement on Tuesday blamed the distortions, controversial and bogus allocations in the spending plan essentially on two factors.
One is the inexperience of the bureaucracy with the zero budgeting approach adopted by the Buhari administration to put the N6.08 trillion together. The zero budgeting format, Dafe said is vastly different from the “envelope system,” the bureaucrats were used to and which has been used to prepare then budget since 2003.
The other factor, which many Nigerians will agree with, is “fraudulent activity,” of bureaucrats involved in the budget preparation, though the Ministry of National Planning and Budget spokesperson tried to evade elaborating on this in his statement. Nevertheless, he noted that the “ministry has zero tolerance for malfeasance and whenever any wrongdoing is alleged, it will be thoroughly investigated and sanctions will be applied.”
The statement from the ministry came just as the National Assembly, through its Joint Committee on Appropriation told the nation that the errors contained in the spending plan are so grievous that it will take some time to correct them. The Committee therefore said passing the bill into law on 25 February as lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly had earlier promised was no longer possible as more time will be needed to fine comb the document.
Nigerians had begun raising eyebrows over suspicious and outrageous allocations to frivolous line items in the budget proposal since it was first submitted to the National Assembly last December. Suspicions over the state of the spending plan deepened with the controversies between the Senate and the presidency over allegations that the original document submitted to the National Assembly has been surreptitiously switched for a new one. The controversies ended when President Buhari owned up in a letter to the National Assembly that he indeed withdrew the original budget document for minor corrections which did not affect the total sum appropriated in the bill.
However, as revelations in the ongoing budget defence sessions at the National Assembly have shown, whatever corrections done in the document have not succeeded in redeeming it from reproach. This was evident when Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, appeared to defend allocations to his ministry last Monday. Looking through the allocations for his ministry, Adewole disowned the entire document as he informed lawmakers that the spending plans as originally proposed by his ministry and which was submitted to the Senate had been largely distorted.
The minister insisted that his ministry would need to re-submit a fresh budget proposal to the Senate for consideration. “In the revised budget as re-submitted, N15.7 billion for capital allocation has been moved to other areas. Some allocations made are not in keeping with our priorities. There is nothing allocated to public health and family health. Over the last two years, nothing has been done on HIV… We have to look into the details of the budget and re-submit it to the committee,” said the Minister. “This was not what we submitted. We’ll submit another one. We don’t want anything foreign to creep into that budget. What we submitted is not there. We have not reached that stage and we find the money there,” Adewole added.
Last Wednesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed also complained about the millions of naira allocated for purchase of computers in some parastatals of his ministry. Other ministers that have appeared before the various committees of the National Assembly have spoken in the same vein and the Appropriation Committee must have taken the deluge of complaints of paddings and suspicious allocations into consideration in its decision to defer the scheduled date for passage of the budget.
Outside of the National Assembly, the 2016 budget proposal have become an object of derision on the social media networks as Nigerians point out allocations to line items which are clearly out of sync with the change promised by the All Progressives Congress, APC administration and especially, the frugal nature of President Buhari. Rather, the budget, as Nigerians are finding out is replete with fraudulent and frivolous allocations, designed to support the opulent lifestyle of public officials or outright theft of funds under bogus headings. The Buhari administration had continued the tradition of its predecessor of yearly allocations for procurements of furniture, software, kitchen equipment, computers and accessories, renovation of buildings, hospital equipment yearly as if the products which are supposed to be durable usually expired with the old year. It has also embraced the culture of humongous allocations for feeding.