- Report indicates we should look for budget padding beyond the National Assembly
Nigeria’s inability, particularly at the federal level, to get her budget process right since the inception of the current political dispensation is a critical factor why the democratic restoration of 1999 has not resulted in the accelerated development widely anticipated by the people over the last 19 years. Intractable and economically disruptive annual delays in the passage of the budget arising largely from bickering between the legislature and executive on budgetary allocations has invariably led to avoidable low budget performance, with negative implications, especially for infrastructural development and qualitative social service delivery.
The National Assembly has also been often vehemently condemned, and rightly too, for undue bloating or padding of the budget, thus unjustifiably increasing its own allocation in order to fund questionable constituency projects and allegedly line the pockets of the legislators.
An exhaustive report by The Punch newspaper, however, indicates that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the executive branch may be no less guilty of committing serious financial infractions akin to budget padding, with equally deleterious developmental consequences. The report strongly suggested that certain items such as purchase of computers, furniture, maintenance of facilities as well as procurement of stationery and kitchen equipment recur annually in the budget proposals of most MDAs. Since these items should reasonably last for a specific number of years before the onset of depreciation, provision for their annual replacement logically raises valid suspicions.
For instance, between 2014 and 2018, both under the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent government of President Muhammadu Buhari, a total of N3 billion was allocated for maintenance services at the State House. This was broken down into N1.198 billion for 2014, N577.5 million in 2015, N283 million in 2016, N467 million in 2017 and N416 million for this year. The items covered under this head included maintenance of vehicles/transport equipment, office furniture, buildings/residential quarters, information technology equipment, plants and generators as well as “other maintenance services”.
Within the same period, honorarium and sitting allowances for the State House was allocated N2billion in five years while fuel and lubricants also for the State House, including vehicles fuel cost, plant/generator fuel cost and cooking gas fuel cost gulped N538.2 billion. Apart from the allocations to the State House, several MDAs were also cited as budgeting humongous amounts annually for assorted purposes, including foodstuff/catering materials, computer software/consumables, refreshment/meals, wildlife conservation, residential rent, cleaning and fumigation, transport/travels, welfare packages as well as sewage charges and generator repairs.
When account is taken of the replication of such expenditure items at state and local government levels, the amount budgeted to service an extensive bureaucracy as well as hardly productive routine governance activities is unjustifiable within the context of paucity of resources to tackle urgent developmental challenges at all levels. True, some of these expenditure provisions may be unavoidable due to annual revenue shortfalls as well as high rate of obsolescence of facilities in many MDAs as explained by the Director-General of the Federal Budget Office, Mr. Ben Akabueze.
However, given the many proven cases of widespread fiscal malfeasance in virtually all sectors of governance, including the bureaucracy in all arms of government, there is the need to scrutinise the annual budgetary preparation process to plug any loopholes for resource leakage.
Indeed, the cost of governance in Nigeria, encompassing avoidable travels and tours, honorarium and sitting allowances as well as refreshment and meals for a resource-famished country like ours is inexcusable. It is also not impossible that some MDAs simply replicate expenditure items from year to year due to a lack of rigour and lazy adherence to familiar routine. Every amount, no matter how negligible, saved from such wastage can be put to productive use.