Nigeria: Buhari’s Transition Budget Demands Thorough Scrutiny

Buhari’s seven years’ experience in the vetting and signing of budgets are enough to put him on guard against those intent on corrupting budgets with illegal insertions and distortions.

With the benefit of hindsight, the consideration of the 2023 transition Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly, calls for a thorough scrutiny. The budgetary proposal contains an expenditure of N20.51 trillion, out of which N8.27 trillion is for non-debt recurrent expenditure, and N5.35 trillion for capital expenditure. It has a deficit of N10.78 trillion.

Its preparation by the federal executive and passage by the parliament usually takes the form of a moment of bazaar, since the dawn of the Fourth Republic in 1999. This is because of too many items that strongly indicate dubious levels of expenditure in the document. This terminal budget of President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime has elicited some controversies over expenditure items in some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government. In the past, presidents had withheld their assent to budgets due to dubious insertions of items, which made them unduly expansionary and difficult to implement.

Very often, federal lawmakers and the bureaucracy or the MDAs compete to out-match each other in making a kill out of the process. It is a criminal and unpatriotic act, which nobody has been punished for in line with the country’s statutes. The MDAs sparked early controversies last week over the N432.8 billion in their budgets, which the lawmakers had questioned.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq had disowned N206 billion inserted into her ministry’s budget for the North-East Development and National Social Safety-Net projects. She explained to the lawmakers that the ministry had requested for the fund in the 2022 budget but it was rebuffed then. The minister, therefore, asked the parliamentarians to direct their enquiry to her counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.

The N10.8 billion expenditure in the budget of the Ministry of Defence, out of which there is N8.6 billion for military hardware procurement and N2.25 billion for the Safe School Initiative, were considered anomalous by the Senate and House Appropriation Committees. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Ibrahim Kana, said the ministry did not initiate it, prompting the Senator Aliyu Wamakko directive for the item to be expunged. He wondered why the items were not captured in the expenditure portfolios of the Air Force/Navy that usually procure hardware for the military and Ministry of Education for the Safe Schools Initiative projects.

However, Ahmed seemingly poured cold water on all of this when she appeared before the House of Representatives with the explanation that there was no budget fraud but an error of coding for the N206 billion at issue, which appeared as “Purchase of Security Equipment in the Government Integrated Financial Management Information Budget Preparation System.” This is a World Bank funded project for the National Social Safety Net-Scale-Up, which is up to $473,500,000 – equivalent to the N206.2 billion in question.

Mrs Ahmed even revealed more than we knew hitherto. She volunteered that a total of N1.7 trillion loan-tied projects were provided in the budget of 14 MDAs. These funds are to be sourced from bilateral and multilateral development partners, which also include N195.4 billion for various projects in the Ministry of Power. “The 2023 budget proposal has been prepared with the utmost sincerity of purpose and in line with established regulations and procedures,” she stated.

However, is it really true that the budget draft was transmitted to supervising ministers for their review and feedback before the document was submitted to the Federal Executive Council for approval and then to the legislature, as Ahmed said? If so, why were these observations not cleared at inter-ministerial levels through this mechanism? This jigsaw leaves the impression that there might be more to it than meets the eye.

Similar scenarios of some sort played out in the 2016 budget of the Ministry of Health. The then minister, Isaac Adewale, was forced to withdraw the entire purported budget to purge it of its strange elements. A total of N15.7 billion for capital projects had been moved to other areas, just as the minister lamented that funds were tied to projects which no final decisions had been taken on.

In the 2017 budget, the then Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola disowned a strange N2 billion in the ministry’s budget, under the expenditure sub-head: “Regional Housing Scheme.” “It is not our project… It is a Ministry of Finance Initiative… That is not what we submitted. We did not submit that proposal,” Fashola had complained.

About 55 agencies had up to 276 curious items in their budgets totaling N145 billion in 2016, to the disgust of Buhari, who vowed in 2017 that the debacle would not repeat on his watch. He said, “They don’t want to reflect on the situation in which we are economically; they want to live the same way; they simply want business as usual.”

Sadly, these leeches are still alive in every budget cycle, as impunity continues to have its way over the country’s penal statues. The president, like his predecessors, had always expressed reservations before signing previous budgets, spending five weeks or more, at times, to fish out insertions and distortions. The 2022 budget, for instance, contains a N36.59 billion inclusion for National Assembly members in the Service Wide Vote, while some MDAs “lobbied” the lawmakers to increase their allocations. This resulted in N21.72 billion spikes in their overheads.

A total of 6,576 new projects were inserted by the National Assembly in the 2021 budget, again. It is a yearly whirligig of abuse of the powers of appropriation by the lawmakers, which ultimately led to project abandonment and, in some cases, non-execution, with contractors yet getting paid for work not done.

Fuelling budget racketeering is the incremental or “Envelop Budgeting” system. A shift to zero-based budgeting system that places emphasis on needs and costs has become imperative. But it will only take a leadership that is prepared to bite the bullet in the fight against corruption for it to happen. The budget as a tool for national development should serve the interest of the staggering 133 million Nigerians suffering from the asphyxiating grip of multi-dimensional poverty, which the National Bureau of Statistics drew attention to recently.

Besides the watchdog roles of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), other institutions like the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and civil society organisations can help to rein in these rogue operators in the public fiscal space. This is evident in the N659 billion that the BPP saved from contract inflation between 2009 and 2014, according to its erstwhile Director-General, Emeka Eze.

A release from the Budget Office, entitled: “2020 Fourth Quarter and Consolidated Budget Implementation Report” detailed what Nigeria could harvest from an opaque-ridden budget. It stated that, “Some MDAs denied access to the teams to monitor their capital projects/programmes. This act completely negates the principles of transparency and accountability.” This is fraud on display. The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Benin-Owena River Basin Development Authority, Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER), in Abuja and Ibadan, were cited as culprits, among many others.

“It was also observed that some MDAs executed projects that are outside their mandate, which were inserted by the National Assembly,” consequently the main projects of the MDAs suffered. And this usually begins with budget preparation and consideration. It is disturbing that these cyclical shortcomings in our budgets occur despite a robust template that contains nine procurement steps that should be adhered to in order to ensure value for money. They range from needs assessment; adequate appropriation; advertisement; transparent prequalification/tender; bid submission/opening; bid evaluation – technical and financial; tender board/Federal Executive Council approval; contract award/execution, to project implementation.

Buhari’s seven years’ experience in the vetting and signing of budgets are enough to put him on guard against those intent on corrupting budgets with illegal insertions and distortions. They are not asleep with the 2023 terminal budget of his regime, whose implementation he will oversee for only five months.


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