As the National Assembly resumes for 2014, one of the key functions they are expected to dwell on is the consideration and passage of the budget proposal as prepared by the Executive. As citizens, we owe our country a duty to interrogate the contents of the proposed budget and offer our views. This, it is hoped, would help our parliamentarians, as our representatives to make informed decisions when considering the proposal for passage.
One way to look at the budget is to consider what each of the heads and figures allocated means for our country and its development. Here are a few of those queries.
The first observation to make is that the budget proposal allocates 76.3% to recurrent expenditure and just 23.7% to capital expenditure. One interpretation of this is that the budget is meant to just keep the country and its institutions running with nothing spectacular to show for. A budget focused on massive development of infrastructure would assign more to capital rather than to recurrent which covers personnel and overhead costs.
There are however a few noticeable exceptions which are to be commended. These include agriculture and rural development that allocates N35.1b to capital and N31.4b to recurrent respectively; water resources, N30.6b and N7.7b; power N59b and N3.3b; transport, N29.3b and N8.1b; works, N100.1b and N28.5b; lands and housing, N12.8b and N5.6 and aviation N26.1b and N6.1b.
The rest of the 42 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) will spend more on their recurrent than on capital and in some instances the difference is so huge. Here are a few cases: the Ministry of Interior which is expected to spend N144.7b in recurrent and just N6.29b on capital; Police formation and commands, N285.5b and N6.79b; Education including UBEC, N443.9b and N49.5b and Health, N216.4b and N46.3b.
Zeroing in on the Interior Ministry’s budget shows that the Prisons Service would spend N45.2b on recurrent and a mere N2.3b on capital. With such lopsided allocation, it is doubtful if our prisons infrastructure would be revamped from their current state of dilapidation and dehumanisation this year. Equally difficult to carry out would be construction of new prisons to decongest the present number, even as the country has just signed a deal with the UK that might see the repatriation of more than 600 Nigerians serving jail terms in the UK to come home to complete their sentences.
But why is the recurrent expenditure so huge? Perhaps we should look at what typically appears under the recurrent expenditure, particularly under the overhead costs. Here are a few of such expenditure heads which need more explanation to the Nigerian public. What do we mean by ‘Welfare packages’, which will gulp as much as N40.4m in the headquarters of the Ministry of Water Resources? Please note that the said figure is not for the entire ministry and agencies under it, rather for the headquarters. Welfare package typically appears in the budget of every MDA and one wonders who audits this spending. How is the money disbursed, to whom and under what circumstances? Who determines the quantum to be disbursed in every office? Under what rules of engagement or laws did we turn our government offices to welfare package disbursers? This budget head is one that needs to be checked or discouraged as it is susceptible to abuse and corruption.
Other heads of interest demanding explanation include ‘Cleaning and fumigation services’ (for which the Headquarters of the Foreign Affairs Ministry would spend N201.7m and the Niger Delta Ministry will spend N25m on) and ‘Anniversaries and celebrations (for which the Ministry of Women Affairs will spend N71.6m)’. There are also budgetary heads for ‘Printing of security documents’; ‘Printing of non-security documents’; ‘Field and camping materials supplies’ (N4.39m in the Ministry of Women Affairs); ‘Uniforms and other clothing’; ‘Refreshments and meals’ (N16.7m in the Ministry of Women Affairs); ‘Honorarium and sitting allowance’ and ‘consultancy services for budget preparation’ (N8.36m in the Ministry of Women Affairs). This last bit suggests that the Ministry of Women Affairs has no internal personnel to prepare its budget for the year and for that reason it would procure consultant(s) to help it do so and it would then part with N8.36m).
There are even more interesting budgetary provisions elsewhere, including the State House. For instance, the State House Headquarters plans to purchase an embalming machine at the cost of N1.65m and a hydraulic post-mortem table at N4m. What morbid humour! Of course we know what embalmment and post-mortem are about, but in the State House Headquarters? No doubt there is a clinic in the State House, but I am not sure that clinic caters for a very large number of clients requiring it to have every kind of specialised units including mortuary. I am sure any such requirement for embalmment and post-mortem would not be routine and frequently required in a clinic in the State House and thus the said equipment cannot be seen as necessities. If and when such needs arise, referral could be made to larger state hospitals like the National Hospital.
But apparently, our State House functions as an integrated town that must have every facility within. After all it has its own church (chapel) and mosque and even a zoo where N8m would be spent to upgrade and maintain it and an additional sum of N14.5m would be spent to purchase two beasts, all for the pleasure of its privileged patrons. And this is after we budgeted N7.5m for wildlife conservation in the State House last year.
Still in the State House, there is plan to spend N76.3m to purchase ‘crested cutlery, flatware and glassware’. Now, isn’t that too much to spend on those items, for a State House that has existed for years and been playing host to several dinners? We don’t dispose of dinnerware on a yearly basis, do we?
General maintenance in the State House will cost N1.19b of which N138.9 will go for motor vehicle and transport equipment maintenance, N907m for office and residential building maintenance; N17.4m for office furniture maintenance and N40m to maintain office and IT equipment (that comes to spending more than N3m each month to maintain office and IT equipment in the office of the president). Recalling that only last year, we budgeted N90.9m for this item, it is bewildering why we plan to spend so much this year. Yet, this is aside N188.3m to be spent on office stationery and computer consumables (for which we budgeted N507.9m last year).
A peep into the budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs brings its own excitement. For instance, we plan to spend money for the maintenance of plants and generators in several of our foreign missions, including the one in London. It’s with the same incredulity that we notice the plan to spend money in fuelling boats and aircraft in virtually all of our foreign missions. As an example, we plan to spend N2.38m and N1.78m respectively for the above services in our Foreign Mission in Abidjan. As earlier mentioned the foreign ministry’s headquarters would part with N201.7m for fumigation and cleaning services during the year.
There is this entry of N100m for the maintenance of Nigeria’s seat in the UN Security Council. Pray what does that come to? One would think that since we have a permanent representative to the UN, that office would be responsible for attending Security Council meetings, which cost would be borne by the UN anyway. So what would the N100m be used for?
Other interesting budgetary provisions proposed in this ministry include N40m for ‘global power on women’s empowerment, HIV and SRHR’ and N9m to be spent by one of its agencies, the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution for ‘building democracy as an instrument of peace’. And although every MDA budgets for health insurance subscription as well as medicals, there is still this curious budgetary head in the foreign affairs ministry known as ‘cost of medical treatment for Mrs. XYZ (I have withheld the real names) at St. Andrews Burns Service at Broomfield Hospital’ for the sum of N49.76m. I am just curious why an individual’s name is listed in a federal budget as a spending. Who is the person? Why is this cost not subsumed in other medical costs or covered by insurance?
Next, the Foreign Affairs ministry plans to spend N834.4m to purchase and freight 40 ‘representational cars’ to 40 of our foreign missions. This translates to N20.86m as average cost for the cars. Wouldn’t this cost be reduced if these cars are bought in the locations they are to be used?
No doubt the above are just some of the numerous line items in the budget that one could query, not necessarily because they are fake, but sometimes because they don’t appear to show prudence in the management of our resources.
As the National Assembly considers the budget, it is hoped that they would be detailed enough to query these and more bogus and phoneey entries in the Appropriation Bill.
Obo Effanga is Governance Manager at Actionaid Nigeria