With the economy in a bind and a growing public anger over his administration’s management of the economy, President Goodluck Jonathan has taken a rare decision to spend less on food and consumables at the presidential villa in 2014.
As the budget comes under an increasingly intense media scrutiny, President Jonathan has given up nearly half of the presidency’s giant feeding bill of N1 billion, a proposal, two years ago, that shocked Nigerians and stirred public anger.
The feeding cost has been lowered by N494 million or 45.5 percent in the 2014 budget proposal sent to the National Assembly by the president.
The 2014 request, if approved by lawmakers, will be the lowest amount of naira spent by the State House on feeding and allied costs in two years.
In the 2012 budget presented in late 2011 by the president, his office and residence as well as those of Vice President Namadi Sambo were allocated an obscene N993 million for refreshments, catering services and purchase of kitchen equipment.
That year, approximately N477million was assigned for foodstuffs and “catering materials supplies” for the president’s office, while an additional N293 million was to provide “refreshment and meals” for the president’s comfort at his home and office.
An extra N45.4 million was earmarked to buy canteen and kitchen equipment for the president’s household, although similar purchases were made the previous year.
For the vice president’s office in 2012, foodstuff, catering and materials supplies were scheduled to cost N104 million, while cooking gas and cooking fuel was to consume N6.2 million.
Refreshments and meals at Mr. Sambo’s office and home were estimated at N20.8million, and another N45.4 million was allocated for purchase of kitchen and household equipment at the state house headquarters.
The funds allocated to feed Aso Rock in 2012 were sufficient to pay about 1,200 of the nation’s growing unemployed graduates a monthly salary of N70, 000 for a year.
That revelation at the time, published by PREMIUM TIMES, aggravated public anger and revved up resistance to government’s plan, within the same period, to remove petrol subsidy, and jack up the pump price of petrol.
A terribly embarrassed presidency quickly scrambled a review of the budget, cutting down the proposed feeding bill by N147 million.
But in the two years that have followed, the government has significantly lowered the feeding bill for the first and second families and their offices, raising the question how the huge 2012 bill may have been utilized, since the same purpose is now being served at a cheaper rate.
In 2013, the presidency’s feeding was put at N717.3 million. For 2014, the figure has been scaled downward to N542.8 million, the new budget shows.
In 2014, for the president’s office and residence, food stuff and catering materials supplies will cost N200.8 million, while refreshment and meals will gulp N162.6 million.
Cooking gas and fuel will be purchased at N 9.4 million while a new set of canteen and kitchen equipment-the same purchase that has consistently occurred for years-will cost the nation N131.8 million.
For the Vice president’s office, food stuff and catering materials supplies will cost N23.9 million, refreshment and meals N10.8 million, while cooking gas and fuel cost would be N3.6 million.
The figures are subject to National Assembly’s approval.
Federal revenues have dwindled during the past year with the government so terribly cash-strapped that it is unable to pay university teachers and execute key developmental projects.
“It’s all gimmicks”
Analysts however believe the presidential belt-tightening, by a regime known more for wasting billions on servicing the exotic tastes of administration officials and outright stealing of scarce public funds, is not an enough indication that the government is committed to fiscal responsibility.
“The reduction in the feeding cost was done specifically to hoodwink the public due to last year’s public outcry,” Olanrewaju Suraju, chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CSNAC, told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday morning. “There are lots of other outlandish spendings proposed in the budget and I’m sure that what he reduced in the feeding cost, he has smuggled it into the budget elsewhere.”
Yomi Ogunsanya, an Abuja-based lawyer spoke along the same line.
“It’s a good development that he (President Jonathan) has reduced his feeding bill but that is not enough,” Mr. Ogunsanya said. “If he wants to be taken seriously, he should cut down on the size of his delegations to foreign trips, and reduce outrageous allowances for his aides and other officials.
“He should learn from Malawi President Joyce Banda, who is selling her country’s presidential aircraft to feed the poor. It is unacceptable that he (Jonathan) is planning to buy a new aircraft at a time more than half of our people are hungry.
“It is even irritating that he plans to spend several millions to feed the animals in his zoo when more than half of Nigerians don’t have food to eat.
“Then he should tackle corruption headlong. He should stop sitting on reports indicting his key ministers for corruption. That’s only when we can begin to take him seriously.”