The ongoing debate over the fiscal budget proposed to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari has, once again, reminded us of how serious corruption and impunity have eaten deep into the soul of the nation and the urgent need to deploy spirited efforts to end the malaise if we are to get things right.
The N6.08 trn budget is based on an oil benchmark of $38 per barrel and 30 per cent capital versus 70 per cent recurrent vote, N1.84 trillion borrowing and spending N500bn on a three-year welfare programme. The budget has a revenue projection of N3.86 trn, which translates to a deficit of N2.22 trn and a debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio of 2.16 per cent. It is expected to raise up the overall debt profile to 14 per cent of the GDP, while the deficit is meant to be financed by a domestic borrowing of N984 bn and foreign borrowing of N900 bn, amounting to a total of N1.84 trn.
After the initially controversy that bordered on the allegation of ‘missing budget’, the 2016 Appropriation Bill, has the potential of reviving the ailing economy and turning things around for the better, despite the dwindling oil prices fortune at the international market due largely to the glut in the international oil market, the loss of exports to the United States of America, unsold cargoes and regular reported cases of pipeline vandalism.
Despite the heavy criticism of the budget for alleged bogus provisions, such as N3.8bn on the State House Medical Centre, over N1bn on the purchase of vehicles and N89.17m on kitchen-canteen equipment when prudence should have been the watchword, a number of other provisions appear to offer hope for a brighter year ahead with specific reference to programmes, such as the bailout for the poor and most vulnerable in the society with the N500bn voted for conditional cash transfers, school feeding programme and the training of 500,000 unemployed university, polytechnic and National Certificate of Education graduates as teachers, a job creation plan that is designed to be a tripartite arrangement between the federal, state and local governments.
If the identified plans had been pursued as laid out in the fiscal budget, it would have injected significant amount of money into the system by creating opportunities in the provision of goods and services.
It is also remarkable that if fully implemented, the budget has the potential to bring about heavy investment in infrastructure going by the sum of N433.4bn that has been allocated to the Power, Works and Housing Ministry so as to execute capital projects. In view of the declining fortune of the aviation sector, the Transportation Ministry is billed to spend N202bn that should take care of crucial needs of the sector including the floating of a new national carrier. Allocations for Education (N483.66bn), Health (N257.38bn) are also impressive when compared with the previous years.
The government equally intends to practicalise its diversification plans from the oil sector by the liberalization of the solid minerals sector by allowing states and private individuals under appropriate regulations to invest and participate in the exploitation of the nation’s abundant mineral resources that have remained under-tapped over the years. The implementation of the Integrated Personal and Payroll Information System and the Treasury Single Account are other areas that would have made a big difference in terms of cutting cost, curbing corruption and leakages from public coffers. The minister of finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, recently revealed that 23,000 ghost workers were discovered in the Federal Civil Service, courtesy of IPPIS and TSA.
The discrepancies associated with the budget in terms of the accusations, counter-accusations, alleged padding and introduction of strange figures and items into the proposal calls for its recall. The rebuttal by the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, that the ‘original’ budget of his ministry had been distorted because strange figures had been smuggled into the estimates. Adewole had disclosed that there were some provisions in which conclusion had not been reached by the ministry, while spurious allocations were made to them without the ministry’s approval.
The minister further claimed that in the revised budget re-submitted, N15.7bn for capital allocation has been moved to other areas while some allocations were not under priority. Earlier, the Senate Committee on Education had discovered that the sum of N10bn was tucked into the Education budget same for that of the Transportation Ministry.
Already, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning has accepted that truly there were errors in the budget, blaming the development on the adoption of the Zero-Based Budgeting System, which is a system of budgeting that reverses the working process of traditional budgeting such that all expenses are justified under the new period. The approach is said to be new to most of the government agencies as it was a clear departure from the common envelope system of budget practiced in the civil service, which was introduced in 2003 by the Federal Government, which provides each Ministry, Department and Agency with a maximum amount for its capital and recurrent needs for the fiscal year.
Should the Muhammadu Buhari administration then be crucified for the budget mess? The answer is no. The problem did not just begin with the current administration. Should the government take the blame? Yes, for not painstakingly reviewing the contents of the appropriation bill before presentation. As it is, the budget proposal has suffered credibility crisis. The Presidency should withdraw the document from the National Assembly without further delay and reworked based on the earlier and unrealistic $38 per barrel oil price benchmark that was premised on a crude oil production target of 2.2 million barrels per day.
The proposals should be amended to remove the strange and in-built waste, extravagance and fraud smuggled in by bureaucrats, cabal and budget mafia. A budget is too important to the life of any nation that it should be toyed with anyhow. Therefore, the Federal Government should ensure that those responsible for tampering with the document, irrespective of their status and affiliation, are fished-out and punished appropriately. This national embarrassment should not be allowed to go without getting to the root of the problem. That way, it will be possible to avert such a costly scenario from being repeated in future.