Frivolity, duplications may mar budget plans
With considerations for the 2017 budget proposals about to begin by the National Assembly, the civil society groups and experts have said that the expected change in the economy may not be realised with the level of duplications and frivolity in the fiscal plan.
They also overviewed the national budgeting processes and its implementations, maintaining that the major traditions that have impinged on performance remain at large.
The consequence will be that while the economy continues to battle the recession, hopes that the 2017 budget will make the difference in ensuring growth and improved well-being of the citizenry have dimmed further.
At the just concluded 2017 Civil Society Summit on Federal Budget in Abuja, the Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said from sustained late budget preparation, presentation, litany of questionable items in the document to return of oil as major revenue earner mean that nothing has been learned and changed.
“Government must resolve the contradiction between its mantra of cutting down waste, improving efficiencies and removing ghost workers from the payroll and the present rising recurrent non-debt expenditure in 2017 budget.
“Recurrent non-debt expenditure got N2.59 trillion in 2015 and moved up to N2.65 trillion in 2016. Now it has gone up to N2.98 trillion. These increments cannot be the sign of a system that is taking steps to remove waste and inefficiencies,” he said.
Dr. Olalekan Obademi of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos, noted that there are assessed repetitions, frivolities and ambiguous terms in the 2017 budget, which could aid corruption and non-performance, pointing the Women Affairs Ministry’s proposal.
This observation has been a recurring issue over the years, while Nigerians had expected that these would have been part of the “change” administration.
For example, “Salaries and Wages” appeared twice, with N737.67 million each, followed by “Salary” with the same amount. Others include “Purchase of Residential Building at N30 million, Purchase of Surveying Equipment at N34.5 million, among others.
But in a swift reaction’ the Director-General of Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, refuted the assertion, saying that such repetitions have been done away with and any such trace could only be in the former document presented, not the one currently being considered by the National Assembly.
He expressed the hope that 2017 budget will surely return the economy to growth path, assuring that the projections are based on research, consultations and outlook that has been affirmed by global financial institutions.
According to him, government has stepped up it strategies to engage militancy in the oil rich Niger Delta, as a way to realize production targets, adding that it was the same issue that affected Nigeria revenue target and budget implementation in 2016.
Again, Dr. Uzochukwu Amakom of the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, queried the rationale for the allocation of more than N1.33 trillion to the budget ministry.
He said it is startling to have N901.2 billion recurrent expenditure and N426.3 billion capital expenditure in a ministry that is more of service offering, than project execution and demanded a clear explanation to Nigerians.
Represented by Dr. David Agu, the economist also raised concern that fiscal information flow is slow, as he noted that there is no clear direction on what happens to funds on excess crude earnings in the budget.
“The proposed budget contained an inflation estimate of 12.92 per cent. Even though this looks realistic, there are pertinent issues. First, the gap between recurrent and capital expenditure in the 2017 budget is enough to trigger inflation.
“The budget has about 30 per cent as its total capital expenditure while the rest are distributed among non-debt recurrent, recurrent and statutory transfers. The proposed recurrent expenditure of 2017 budget is enough to trigger,” he said.
Also, the Fiscal Responsibility Commission has reiterated its concern for late budget, which it said should be approved before January 1 of every year to enable it run a full term and not in the present broken form.
The commission also decried the way some aspects of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework had to be reviewed to capture present realities in the system, even after the proposal was submitted to the lawmakers by the President.
The Head of Monitoring and Evaluation, FRC, Ola Tijani, who spoke for the commission, said government has laid a foundation for recovery and growth with the budget, adding that implementations of the proposals which have been the bane of successive regimes are the concerns.
He admitted that inflation and unemployment have been rising and that government needs to do more than riding the traditional rope of engaging every sector into action.
“I am also afraid that a lot of funds will be going into Service-Wide votes this year. One would have expected a tight budget where there should not be such avenues of funding frivolities. The moment there is any window for free funds, we have already devised means of free spending,” he said.