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Op-Ed: Frivolities, inappropriate line items in 2022 federal budget estimates



eze onyekpere

By Eze onyekpere

The 2022 Federal Government of Nigeria Budget Call Circular states the basis for the preparation of the budget estimates and the allocation of resources in the 2022 federal budget. This discourse reviews some of the provisions in the estimates submitted by the President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly against the background of the priority statement and basis detailed in the Call Circular. This will facilitate an understanding of the empirical basis and logic behind some of the budgetary allocations.

The Call Circular states inter alia that the 2022 budget estimates must be linked to the core objectives of the Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP 2021-2025). These core objectives are to establish a strong foundation for a diversified economy; investing in critical physical, financial, digital and innovation infrastructure; building a solid foundation and enhancing the capacities to strengthen security and ensure good governance and enabling a vibrant, educated and healthy populace. Resources are to be allocated to actual needs based on the zero-based budgeting system where projects are justified for each new budget year. This provision of the Call Circular cannot be faulted considering the need to prioritise expenditure in the face of very lean resources and the debt burden gulping a large percentage of available revenue. A review of some of the frivolous and inappropriate provisions in the estimate follows.

Starting from the presidency, in the State House, there is a request for annual routine maintenance of mechanical and electrical installations and maintenance of office buildings and residential quarters in the sum of N5.289bn. There was a provision for this line item last year as it is annual routine maintenance. This estimate is excessive considering all implications of the cost of materials and possible profit for the contractor. There is a provision for phased replacement of vehicles and spare parts for N1.78bn. This is a presidency that already has a fleet of vehicles and has been buying vehicles year after year. The State House can deploy less than 50% of this estimate to meet its needs. There is a further request for N2.309bn for travel and transport and computer software acquisition for N470.7m. Travels must be focused and should be embarked upon only for the purpose of improving the economy, good governance and overall interest of Nigeria. It is not a jamboree and the business of a crowd. It can be better managed to reduce costs. There is a further request for the construction of the presidential wing at the State House Medical Centre at N21.974bn. For a government that routinely allows medical practitioners to go on strike on the excuse of lack of resources and a president that routinely indulges in medical tourism, this vote is a waste. It is better channelled to the health of the entire population. This vote should be saved. The foregoing estimates are not good for leadership at the highest level considering that the State House should lead by example.

Most of the projects of the National Agriculture Land Development Authority are in “some selected states”, without a clear identification of the exact location. These locations should be made available before approval by NASS. The Call Circular states: “Please note that it is now a requirement to provide the Global Positioning System coordinates of the location of all projects above N150m in value to be included in the budget. This will aid geo-tagging of the projects and facilitate deployment of technology in monitoring & evaluation”. There is a provision for purchase of land preparation equipment (tractors, tillers and implements), 70 tractors for NALDA integrated farm estates in the six geopolitical zones in the sum of N1bn; land development-bush clearing for the establishment of NALDA integrated farm estates for N300m and another N500m for bush clearing and land preparation for farmers in the six geopolitical zones. After purchasing N1bn worth of land preparation equipment, a further sum of N850m is dedicated to bush clearing and land preparation? This is a duplication of votes and these later estimates can be saved. How will government recover this vote used in the purchase of tractors? Will they be used or hired for a fee? There are provisions for the provision of farming inputs – seeds, cuttings, fertilisers, etc. This raises the poser as to who is the owner of the harvests of these integrated NALDA run farms.

Furthermore, there is a persistent question of duplication. Is there anything special in the mandate of NALDA that cannot be subsumed under the Ministry of Agriculture? NASS should in the spirit of reducing the cost of governance consider a merger of NALDA with the ministry in charge of agriculture. With a capital investment of N7.677bn, NASS needs to verify the real beneficiaries of NALDA’s services. How much does NALDA pay into the Treasury as operating surplus after so many years of federal investments? Is there any link/cooperation between NALDA and the numerous agriculture research institutes? So many issues to be resolved before approval.

In the News Agency of Nigeria, there is a vulgar and most inappropriate request for the purchase of “SUV Jeep” for the chief executive/managing director in the sum of N82m. First, this estimate cannot qualify as a priority for the country under the demands of the Call Circular. The second issue is that the chief executive must not drive an SUV and if he must drive an SUV, the price of N82m is outrageous as there are SUVs that can be bought at a much lower cost.

The National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure got a vote for only personnel costs. How can NASENI operate and fulfil its mandate just by having provisions for only personnel/salaries? Is there any other source of funding for its operations? If the answer is in the affirmative, this should have been made clear in the budget. NASS should verify before approval.

For the Federal Ministry of Information Headquarters, there is an estimate for “equipment for the implementation of public service financial reform (IPPIS, TSA, GIFMIS, NCOA, etc.) in line with the IPSAS project of the Federal Government of Nigeria” in the sum of N35.122m. From all reasonable opinions of public finance management reformers, there is no special equipment tied to any of the aforementioned reforms. If the request was for accounting software, it could have made some meaning but the estimate is for equipment. There is a request for capacity building/skill acquisition program for youth and women in the sum of N35m. This is hanging and not properly anchored. Building capacity of which women and youths, on what, and at which location? The same ministry has a total sum of N1.196bn under ten different line items dedicated to media interventions and awareness-raising about government and its programmes. This is excessive and cannot under any guise qualify as a national priority. These interventions could be achieved with about 20% of the estimated vote.

The foregoing is not a comprehensive pullout of frivolous and inappropriate line items in the 2022 federal budget estimates but demonstrates the trend. This is not value for money and considering that the bulk of the money to be used for this budget is going to be borrowed, these frivolities need to be reduced to a minimum.

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