2018 Budget: Worries over another era of padding

2018 Budget: Worries over another era of padding

For three consecutive years, the national budget has become notorious for being allegedly padded, a development that political pundits say has caused ‘big’ embarrassment to the country, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE

There is an anonymous quote that goes thus: “The first time you make a mistake, it’s an accident; the second time you make the same mistake, it’s on purpose; and the third time you make the same mistake, it’s no longer a mistake, it’s a habit.”

The quote above would perhaps easily apply to the manner in which budget has been prepared by the Federal Government since 2016 when the word “padding” first crept into the budget preparation’s lexicon.

In that year, it was a former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who blew the whistle, accusing the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers of the House of padding the 2016 budget to the tune of over N400bn.

For being “unpatriotic” to the House, the Kano State lawmaker was suspended for 180 legislative days on September 28, 2016.

The controversy over the budget caused the Federal Government a big embarrassment and there were assurances that the mess would not be repeated.

However, the following year, in February 2017, the issue reared its head again when the Senate, during a ministerial defence of that year’s N7.29tn budget proposal, asked the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, how a “weird” N2bn crept into his ministry’s budget.

“It is not our project…It is a Ministry of Finance’s initiative…That is not what we submitted. We did not submit that proposal,” Fashola had defended.

It would be later revealed that about 55 agencies had up to 276 suspicious items in their budgets, costing about N145bn.

And now, padding has come up again in the 2018 N8.6tn budget proposal that was presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7, 2017,  to a joint session of the National Assembly.

The President had wanted the budget to be passed by December so that the country could return to a budget cycle of January-December.

However, during its review of the budget at a legislative proceeding last Tuesday, the Senate criticised the executive, stating that the budget was “filled with inaccuracies, padding and inconsistencies.”

Consequently, the Senate said it could not complete work on the 2018 budget in January as requested by the executive.

Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had vented anger at the errors in the budget, asking the executive to sit up and warning that disaster was lurking if the 2017 budget was not rolled over to 2018.

“Truly, it is very disheartening and disappointing because we know how much we have put into the budget process,” Saraki said.

“By now, 2017 budget should have been implemented by up to between 40 and 60 per cent, but this has not been the case. This makes it very difficult for us; we cannot turn into magicians.

“I continue to appeal that you work within what you have and let us do our best to ensure that we have a budget that is in the interest of Nigerians. The executive, on its part, should sit up and not just make rhetoric, but get down to work. If the 2017 budget items are not rolled over to 2018, that is a disaster. Let the executive show some seriousness towards the budget exercise.”

That the issue of padding has kept recurring in the country’s budgetary process every year should call for concern, the President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, said.

“The perennial issue has become a very sad commentary on the entire budget process. It is very important that the President is interested in the quality and content of the budget [before submission to the National Assembly], as this is crucial in the fight against corruption,” he noted.

“The budget was supposed to be prepared with the support of all Ministries, Departments and Agencies so as to ensure it is properly done with minimal errors.”

Noting that the development could cause a delay in the budget passage and implementation, Ugwummadu, however, said it was not enough reason for the legislature to attack the executive.

He said, “The development somehow depicts an inharmonious relationship between the executive and the legislature. It was wrong for the National Assembly to now say they would not pass the budget.

“The President wanted the budget to be passed early, which was why he presented it early, but what’s happening might be as a result of inharmonious relationship and also intra-politicking within the All Progressives Congress.

“One would be made to believe that the verdict by the Court of Appeal that the Senate President [Saraki] should face trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false declaration of assets might be responsible for the new friction. There seems to be flexing of muscles going on.”

Ugwummadu said rather than criticise the executive beyond necessary, the National Assembly should seek to work with the executive towards eradicating the errors in the budget for easy passage, especially as the country is just emerging from recession.

He added, “Much as there is the need for separation of powers, every arm of the government needs to reinforce one another and work together to ease the suffering of the people.

“But with the latest development, we would likely not get the budget passed until maybe the second quarter of 2018, which is dangerous for a country that is just coming out of recession.”

When padding first emerged in 2016, a Lagos-based public affairs analyst, Mr. Tunde Temionu, said the development would deal a big blow to the country’s economy.

He wrote in his December 30, 2016 article — “Budget padding and Nigeria’s economy” — that the phenomenon was being operated by “transgressors who lack social conscience and sobriety.”

Expecting that President Buhari would take a decisive action on the issue then, he said the reverse was the case as it eventually became “completely trivialised” by the Presidency.

Speaking to Saturday PUNCH, Lagos-based public affairs analyst, Mr. Abraham Babatunde, also expressed worry that despite the embarrassment caused by the latest budget padding, it might not prompt the President to deal with those involved in it.

He said, “Padding has turned into a habit and it must stop. I don’t think it’s because the President was hasty in passing the budget. In 2016 when he was slow in even preparing the budget, padding still occurred.

“The persistent mistake, or rather habit, shows some form of incompetence somewhere, and the President doesn’t need to be told what to do. He should do what he’s supposed to do.”

A lecturer of political science at the University of Lagos, Dr. Isiaka Adams, warned that padding could lead to the downfall of the ruling government if the matter was not taken seriously.

Already, he said the situation had led to distrust in the administration, which could not be trusted with the well-being of the people.

He said, “One would think the persistent bloating of the budget would result in more money being poured into capital expenditure in the economy, but not much has changed in terms of infrastructural development. The whole issue has become a yearly embarrassment and undoubtedly, it has led to distrust of our political leaders. It shows they cannot be trusted with our commonwealth.

“There is also a display of incompetence and the public now doubts the integrity of our leaders. Their political capital or goodwill has also reduced, which could bring down the government.

“What the National Assembly has done is good, by pointing out the errors. This is why it is good to have separation of powers. Meanwhile, some people ought to be punished, seeing that it is happening again.

“We cannot continue in this way. Those who are incompetent in preparing the budget should be shown the way out.

“Lastly, the legislature should send the budget back to the executive for the correction of errors as soon as possible so that the implications for delayed passage wouldn’t be harsher.”

Talking about the implications of budget padding, an economist, Simisola Adepoju, said it could lead to a myriad of economic problems, particularly inflation.

She said, “Padding the national budget constitutes tools for inflation, the type called demand pull inflation. Passing that kind of budget puts more money in the economy because the increased or false monetary estimate of projects and/or expenditures away from the actual monetary estimates floods the economy.

“Apart from this, there would be delay in passing the budget, thereby setting the economy on a slow pace next year. This is not good for the country because we are just emerging from recession. Nothing should have stopped the budget from being passed by next year January for easy economic recovery. Now, we should expect the economy to drag for a while next year until the budget is finally passed.”

Meanwhile, an economist, Henry Boyo, said it was high time the country shifted focus away from budget padding, saying if the main cause of the phenomenon was not addressed; it would keep recurring each year.

He said, “It may seem that we have the issue of budget padding every year, but what we need to address is the root of the problem. The bigger form of corruption in the budget preparation is monetary mismanagement.

“What causes budget padding is ministries or agencies not having enough money to play with for capital expenditures, which is why they add some amounts to the figures.

“What makes no sense is the way the Federal Government keeps borrowing money from outside the country when the Central Bank is sitting on about $40bn reserves.”

The economist opined that if MDAs had more money to execute projects, they wouldn’t sneak in items that would bloat the budget.

He said, “If the ministries and government agencies had enough money, which could be conveniently provided by the apex bank, budget padding would become a foregone issue.

“Let’s leave budget padding and focus on corruption going on at the CBN. The bank keeps auctioning several millions and billions of naira to bureaux de change and nobody is saying anything. Budget padding is like headache while monetary mismanagement is like cancer. Let’s focus on attacking the cancer first and then there would be a more transparent budgetary process.”

Be that as it may, an Abuja-based political analyst, Mrs. Funmi Olopade-Enyeowu, said the 2018 budget padding showed incompetence by the executive.

She said, “That this issue has kept recurring shows some level of gross incompetence by those preparing the budget and it doesn’t speak well of the Buhari-led administration. I think the President should be interested in going through every policy document he is given before passing it on. He could have taken his time to look at the proposal critically and ask questions before taking it to the National Assembly.

“He should know that those ‘big men’ at the National Assembly wouldn’t stop at any opportunity to make a mockery of him because they’ve never been on the same page despite being in the same party. This is good for democracy, though. If they were on the same page, probably the budget would have been passed without the legislators looking at it thoroughly. However, if the Senate feels the budget is so full of errors, as they claimed, they should quickly resend it to the executive for corrections rather than turn it into a political issue.”

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