At last, the National Assembly passed the long awaited 2018-appropriation bill and it is expected to be transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for Assent, this of course is not news.
The Legislative arm of government concluded its annual ritual of appropriation over six months after President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the proposed budget to a joint committee of the National Assembly.
Buhari had, on 7th November, presented a budget estimate of about N8.6 trillion to the legislature. As expected, there had been changes in the variables upon which the budget was based. This, according to the lawmakers, necessitated the increment in the budget figure to about N9.1 trillion. This also is not news.
What could then be responsible for the delay?
It is needless to say that the animosity and distrust between the executive and legislative arms of government are dealing a great blow on the Buhari-led administration. The remote and immediate causes of this are an independent topic and of course, a discussion for another day.
While the jerking-up of budget figures from about N8.6 trillion proposed by the President, to about N9.1trillion, may not be news, more so that the lawmakers have taken time to explain what informed the increment, what appeared as a strange development, is the sudden increment of statutory allocation to the National Assembly, from N125 billion to N139 billion. This is a N14 billion increment, when compared to the 2017 budget.
I have puzzled my mind over the increment and have mulled severally on the matter. Certainly, I will be entitled to my opinion, until the leadership and management of the National Assembly decide to explain this sudden increment to Nigerians.
It is worthy to note here, that a penny did not increase the statutory allocation to the National Judicial Council (NJC). It stands at N110 billion.
Thereby, whatever reason could be adduced for the increment in the statutory transfer to the National Assembly could also have applied to the NJC, if the same condition applies.
Preliminary investigation on this sudden increment revealed that the statutory allocation to the National Assembly in the 2017 budget was not completely released and the balance of N14billion was added to this supposed N125 billion in the 2018 budget, how thoughtful!
While I would not justify the decisions of the executive to withhold an amount from the statutory transfer, it is important also to take a look at some items in the budget breakdown of the National Assembly and draw conclusions.
According to a report of BudgIT & EiENigeria, the overhead salary for The National Institute of Legislative Studies (NILS) has a personnel cost of N285.5 million, which is four times the salary of its workforce. The agency plans to spend N489 million on trainings, and another N250 million on travels. This same agency also planned to spend N237m on purchase of motor vehicles in 2017 and its permanent office is expected to gulp N2.42bn.
A sum of N6.7 billion was allocated for the management office personnel costs. Provision of vehicles is to cost N657 million, while photocopying machines and other office equipment will cost N369 million.
Security equipment will cost N440 million, material and supplies and maintenance cost will gulp N1.59 billion, N467million is meant for consulting fees and N471million is allocated for an insurance premium. The sum of N451 million was earmarked for miscellaneous expenses, which includes refreshment meals, medical expenses and publicity. For a management office of the National Assembly, there is a total sum of N15 billion.
As outrageous as these allocations appear, I am in no position to question or discredit the figures. Rather, I wish to observe that certain items should not be budgeted for on yearly basis. This seems to be the problem of budgeting in Nigeria, and I am surprised that the lawmakers who question ministries and agencies of government, could not factor that in their own appropriation.
Items such as vehicles, office equipment and funds allocated to building of premises should at least not appear in the budget on annual basis.
Sequel to this, the lawmakers may not be morally correct to include the unremitted N14billion from the 2017 budget, more so that they have promised to help the government reduce the cost of governance.
Besides this, the budget record did not show that this N14 billion increment is an outstanding liability to the National Assembly, as otherwise stated in the budgetary allocation to NDDC. If this is not clarified, the 2019 budget to the legislature may remain as N139 billion.
Therefore, if I were the President, I would, in faithfulness to my resolve to cut down on cost of governance, seek the understanding of the lawmakers on why this statutory allocation should be reasonably reduced, at the same time ensure that the institution gets value for the allocated funds.
I have never heard from anywhere that the National Assembly remitted unspent funds to the government’s treasury, and the institution is hardly supervised by relevant agencies of government, not even the EFCC or ICPC.
I make bold to submit that, without the greed of some individuals and pockets of unnecessary expenditure, N110 billion or less will be effectively sufficient to run the National Assembly and its agencies.
But as the President, I would lead by example and ensure that budgetary allocations to all agencies of government are thoroughly scrutinised. The Buhari-led administration has not impressed me in this aspect but all hope is not lost.
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