Issues In the Padding and Un-padding of Budget 2016, By Majeed Dahiru
There is no doubt that the budgeting process has not been without challenges. The executive must henceforth ensure a proper implementation of the budget in other to give life to the good intentions behind the regional and constituency projects. In line with the anti-corruption stand of the current administration, all abuse of powers and privileges by public and elected officials in all arms of government be curtailed drastically.
The 2016 Appropriation Bill may go down in history as the most controversial budget in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari presented his N6.7 trillion budget estimates on the floor of the National Assembly in December 2015, the very first in the life of his administration. A summary of the breakdown of the budget indicates N351.3 billion for statutory transfers, N1.47 trillion for debt servicing and N2.6 trillion was earmarked for recurrent non-debt expenditure. The budget also made a remarkable improvement with about 30 percent of the total estimate dedicated to capital expenditure. However, this bright prospect of economic prosperity for Nigeria may have become jeopardised. For the first time, the nation has been openly confronted with the phenomenon of ‘budget padding’, a situation regarded as the criminal inflation of budgetary estimates, by some top government officials with clear intentions to personally benefit from proceeds of the fraudulent act, at the expense of the country. This unfortunate act is believed to have been an entrenched practice in finance and planning processes over the years in classic cases of official corruption.
The recent face-off between Speaker Yakubu Dogara and his one-time staunch supporter, Hon Jibrin Abdul Mumin, who was recently sacked as the chairman of appropriation in the Federal House of Representatives because of his alleged ‘high handedness and fraudulent acts’, has brought back the now notorious phrase, ‘budget padding’, with Jibrin accusing the speaker and other principal officers of padding up the 2016 budget. This is very unfortunate because the dramatis personae in this tragedy may drag the National Assembly, which is the symbol of our fledgling democracy, into disrepute.
Padding as an Executive Affair
Issues surrounding budget padding are the invention of the executive branch of government and the blame for such criminal act should go to the executive. The road to this unfortunate episode began with the report that the 2016 budget was missing. It was later revealed that the executive had sent a second version, different from the original one presented at the joint sitting of the entire National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, to the legislative chambers. It was discovered by the legislature in the cause of their scrutiny of the budget that certain irreconcilable figures were put together by some MDAs by the way of inflated budgetary estimates, with the obvious intention to convert this to personal monetary gains when passed into law. This padding was further complicated by the fact that two versions of the budget existed and the National Assembly was in dilemma as to which to work with. The Presidency finally accepted the fact that it replaced the first version of the budget with a second one because of the discrepancies it discovered in the earlier one. This was interpreted as a veiled admittance that indeed the budget had been padded. This was particularly dramatised by the minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole during his budget defence on February 8th when he claimed that the figures contained in the document before him were strange and did not emanate from him. This claim reverberated all through the various MDAs when billions of naira were alleged to have been smuggled into the original estimates. The saga was blamed on a so-called ‘budget mafia’. The Presidency acted swiftly by approving the sack of the Director General of the Budget Office of the federation, Yahya Gusau and other top management staffs of the budget office on February 14th.
National Assembly Has Powers of Appropriation
From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that budget padding is an executive affair. Therefore, the accusation by the former chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives against the leadership of the House has thrown up a lot of issues which must be put in proper perspectives. The National Assembly has the constitutional powers of appropriation. The Assembly can alter the budgetary estimates as presented by the executive. This powers can be exercised by the removing or adding of projects, the reduction or increment of estimated figures and the increment or reduction of the total budgetary estimates. These powers are derived from the 1999 constitution as amended, as expressly stated in clear terms in section 81 subsection 1,2,3 and 4. In carrying out this constitutional duty, the National Assembly cannot be accused of padding the budget, because it has the powers to alter the budget. The best the executive can do is to lobby the National Assembly to arrive at a common ground with each other.
Regional Intervention on Projects and Constituency Projects
There is so much misunderstanding about issues surrounding regional and constituency projects. This category of projects is aimed at ensuring that all the six geo-political zones, the 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies get the attention of government by way of even, equitable and fair distribution of capital projects across the country. This has become inevitable because of the peculiarity of our democracy arising from the diverse interests that constitute the geo-politics of the Nigerian federation. The size, scope and quantum of resources to be allocated for such interventionist projects are usually arrived at after due consultations between the leadership of the National Assembly and the heads of the executive arm of government. This has been the convention and practice since 1999. President Buhari, after due consideration, approved 100 billion naira for regional and constituency projects to be part of the 2016 Appropriation Act. The money was further subdivided into (1) regional intervention projects; 40 billion naira and  constituency projects; 60 billion naira. The leadership of the National Assembly are usually drawn from all the six geo-political zones of the country, therefore the process of equitable allocation of this money is collectively decided by the principal officers, to ensure all zones get a fair share of federal resources by way of corresponding projects of the money’s worth. The 60 billion naira for constituency projects is likewise shared equally at 10 billion naira allocated to each geo-political zone, but in this case to be subdivided to the federal constituencies in each zone. The members representing the various federal constituencies are privileged to decide the type, scope and extent of projects in their constituencies. This money is not given to any member of the National Assembly in cash. Their role ends with submitting request for projects through the Appropriation Committee to any MDA of their choice as they deem fit, as in the best interest of their constituencies. It is the executive that awards the contracts for the execution of the projects after going through the usual due process of competitive bidding and pre-qualification. The executive also ensures close monitoring by relevant agencies to ensure compliance with implementation rules and guide lines.
There is no doubt that the budgeting process has not been without challenges. The executive must henceforth ensure a proper implementation of the budget in other to give life to the good intentions behind the regional and constituency projects. In line with the anti-corruption stand of the current administration, all abuse of powers and privileges by public and elected officials in all arms of government be curtailed drastically. In the conduct of government business, transparency and accountability should be entrenched in other to deliver dividends of democracy to the long suffering citizens of Nigeria.
Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through email@example.com.