January 23, (THEWILL) – The National Assembly inflated Nigeria’s annual budgets with a total of over N3 trillion within six years (2017-2022), thereby distorting the economic growth and objectives the budgets were originally intended to achieve. The jerking up of budget values, popularly called padding, is a process by which the lawmakers adjust the expenditure plans originally presented to them by the Executive arm of government for approval as required by law, thereby creating extra costs.
The adjustments come in the form of insertion of new items – mostly on the recurrent expenditure; amendment, expunging or replacing of the items originally formulated by the executive. The action puts the economy in jeopardy with the result that the budgets hardly deliver on the purposes the executive declares during the presentation of the spending plan.
Data from approved budgets from 2017 to 2022 show that the lawmakers inflated the spending plans with an average of N516.66 billion each year – a sum close to the monthly FAAC revenue shared by the federal, state and local governments. The figures range from N90 billion to over N900 billion.
In 2017, the budget of N7.28 trillion presented by the executive was raised to N7.44 trillion with additional N160 billion. The sum of N960 billion was added to the original N8.61 trillion resulting in an approved budget of N9.12 trillion in 2018. For 2019, the lawmakers padded the original budget of N8.83 trillion with N90 billion, bringing the approved budget to N8.92 trillion.
The approved budget for 2020 was originally N10.33 trillion; the figure jumped to N10.81 trillion after the lawmakers injected extra N480 billion into the spending plan. The 2021 and 2022 budgets were not spared: they were padded with N590 billion and N731 billion to arrive at the approved N14.57 and N17.12 trillion. The budgets originally presented by the executive were N13.98 and N16.39 trillion respectively.
Details of the original 2022 budget of N16.39 trillion presented by President Muhammadu Buhari comprised N3.90 trillion debt service figure, N6.8 trillion recurrent expenditure and N4.8 trillion capital expenditure. In the revised, approved budget, debt servicing was reduced by 0.35 percent to N3.87 trillion.
It is most probable that the padded figure was put on the N6.9 trillion recurrent expenditure, with a 1.4 percent increase from the originally proposed figure. The highest increase was on capital expenditure with the greatest increase in the approved budget, which rose to N5.4 trillion, a 12.5 percent increase over the president’s initial proposal. The approved N17.12 trillion budget is 17.58 percent over the N14.5 trillion budget figure of 2021.
According to the revised budget, the National Assembly is taking the sum of N139 billion for the fiscal year, out of which the Senate gets N33 billion while the Federal House of Representatives will spend N51 billion.
Amid severe revenue challenges, the National Assembly plans to spend N5 billion on a library project while another N300 million will be spent on e-library projects. The sum of N139 million is earmarked for spending on the NASS dashboard. These projects were not contained in President Buhari’s original proposed budget.
A foremost civic-tech organisation leading the advocacy for transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s public finance, BudgIT Organisation, recently said it identified 460 duplicated projects in the 2022 FG Approved Budget, slamming the National Assembly for budget padding and other corruption loopholes.
The non-governmental organisation (NGO) called on the citizens, CSOs, private sector and the international community to prevail on the National Assembly and Presidency to urgently amend and eliminate the loopholes in the Federal Government’s 2022 Approved Budget.
“Our preliminary analysis of the 21,108 capital projects in the 2022 approved budget revealed 460 duplicated projects amounting to N378.9billion. Recall that BudgIT observed 316 duplicated projects inserted into the 2021 FG Budget approved by NASS. ICPC verified 257 duplications, while the Budget Office confirmed the existence of only 185 duplicated projects worth N20.13bn, after which it informed the public that funds were not released for the projects in 2021.
“Furthermore, BudgIT notes that the occurrence of inflated projects amounting to billions of naira directly linked to the State House and the Presidency is a cause for concern. Examples include the N20.8billion requested by the Presidency to construct a 14-bed presidential wing at the existing State House Medical Centre, N28.72 million requested the purchase of two units of 10KG washing machine and six units of LG televisions in the State House Lagos Liaison Office, among others.
“The loopholes for fraud in the 2022 FG budget is a crime against the 86 million Nigerians living below the poverty line, an injustice to hardworking taxpayers and an open mockery of the countries and lending institutions that intend to lend Nigeria N6.29 trillion in 2022,” the NGO said in a statement signed by its Communications Associate, Iyanu Fatoba, and made available to THEWILL.
Other Channels of Profligacy
Details of the budget further revealed that the President and the Vice-President are to spend the sum of N3.087 billion on travels within and outside the country in the fiscal year. Specifically, the President plans to spend N2.309 billion on travels, while the Vice President was allocated the sum of N778.2 million for the same purpose.
This implies that the President would spend more money travelling abroad than within the country as he is planned to spend N1.53 billion on his foreign travels and N775.602 million on local trips during the year. On the other hand, the Vice President is expected to spend N476 million on foreign trips and N301.96 million on his travels within the country in 2022.
Budgetary provisions for the President and his deputy, captured above do not include the travel budget of N162. 253 million created for the State House Headquarters, which includes other workers in the place. Furthermore, the budget details revealed that the President would spend N301 million on food and catering, while his honorarium and sitting allowance was allocated N174.176 million.
According to the details revealed in the breakdown, the President’s cost of utilities for the year is pegged at N503 million, covering electricity charges, telephone, Internet access, water rates and sewage charges. Office stationery/computer consumables and books, newspapers, magazines, printing of documents, drugs and medical supplies will cost N470.4 million. The maintenance of office equipment, furniture, buildings, vehicles, generators and others are expected to gulp N402.2 million.
The Vice President was allocated N156.662 million for food stuff and catering services, as well as N20.26 million for meals and refreshments for his functions. The on-going construction of the Presidential Wing of the State House Medical Centre was allocated the sum of N21.974 billion, while the centre itself was allocated a separate N687 million.
The President is also expected to spend a total of N12.5 billion on the Presidential Air Fleet in 2022. About N1.6 billion is provided for the purchase of vehicles and spare parts. According to the estimate, the ongoing phased replacement of vehicles and spares will cost N1.6 billion compared to the N436 million set aside for a similar purpose in the 2021 proposal.
About N180 million is provided for purchase of tyres for bulletproof vehicles, plain cars, CCU vehicles, platform trucks, jeeps, ambulances and other utility and operational vehicles. Reports show that N116.19 million was set aside for a similar purpose last year. The government also budgeted N210 million for what it described as the “purchase of Phase 7 Avionics for AW 139 helicopters”.
Rubber Stamp NASS
Beside walking the familiar path of profligacy through budget padding, the lawmakers contribute to the economic woes of the country by frivolously approving many foreign loan requests from President Buhari. These include the $5.5 billion foreign loan approved in November 2017, the $30 billion and the $22.7 billion approval in December 2019 and March 2020 respectively.
In April 2021, NASS approved $1.5 billion and 995 million Euros, while it gave approval to the President’s request to borrow $16.18 billion in June 2021. In November 2021, they also approved $16.2 billion and N1.02 billion Euros and gave the nod to yet another request for $5.8 billion in December 2021.
The lawmakers have been severely criticised for being too eager to approve such loan requests without the necessary debates or critical questions. The 8th Assembly had declined approval to several foreign loan requests from the executive for what the lawmakers described as lack of details – specific projects the loans were meant for, expected return on investment, repayment plan and cost of borrowing.
A former lawmaker, Senator Shehu Sani, in December 2021 lambasted the National Assembly for regularly approving the loan requests submitted by President Buhari without asking questions.
“During our stay in the National Assembly, requests for loans were thoroughly scrutinised and debated seriously. In the committee where I had the likes of Dino Melaye, Ben Murray-Bruce, we threw away the loan requests that did not represent the general wellbeing of Nigerians. Within two years, this National Assembly has approved over $30 billion loans without serious debates.
“This time, before Mr President sends a request for a loan, it has already been approved without scrutiny”, Sani said at the Delta State Civil Society Day and Award 2021 event held in Asaba.