While signing into law the 2022 Appropriation Bill (budget), President Muhammadu Buhari noted with concern that the National Assembly (NASS) inserted over 6,000 new projects into it. “Provisions made for as many as 10,733 projects were reduced while 6,576 new projects were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly,” the President said.
Most of these projects were inserted by the federal lawmakers in the guise of constituency projects, areas that relate to matters considered the responsibilities of State and Local Governments.
The controversy over padding of budgets has been an ongoing one. Many argue that since the law empowers the National Assembly to scrutinise the budget; their action does not, in any way, amount to padding.
Defending their action, some lawmakers themselves insisted that they are empowered by the constitution to make insertions into the budget by way of tinkering with its provisions even as they tried, over the years, to justify huge allocations in the budgets for constituency projects.
However, in our opinion, the justification for huge budgetary allocations to constituency projects by NASS was rendered puerile by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), through its constituency tracking initiatives. The exercise confirmed the fears raised by most Nigerians that the so-called constituency projects are just conduit pipes for the lawmakers to siphon public funds into their pockets.
Not only are the projects awarded to firms where the lawmakers have stakes, in most cases, the projects are poorly executed or not executed at all even when monies had been released.
Aside the raging debate over the propriety or otherwise of budgetary allocation for constituency interventions which the lawmakers use as a bait to insert projects into the annual budget, there is also the worry over duplication of projects. In all cases, they do not conceal their selfish interests as they decide the site, approve the funding and personally oversee the execution of the projects, where they exist all.
In a report released recently, a civil society organisation, BudgIT Nigeria, said it discovered over 460 projects valued at N378.9 billion that were duplicated in the 2022 Appropriation Act. We also recall that BudgIT found out that 316 duplicated projects were inserted into the 2021 budget approved by the National Assembly. The 460 figures for 2022 showed that the trend is on an upward trajectory.
As a newspaper, we are alarmed that those projects are duplicated in a budget that will be largely funded through borrowing. The 2022 budget has a deficit of about N6.25 trillion, approximately 3.39 per cent of GDP, a figure slightly above the three percent ceiling set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
The worrisome aspect of this situation is that the government is insisting that the deficit would be financed by new borrowings, privatisation proceeds and drawdown on loans secured for specific projects. Even with this scarry scenario that has continued to exacerbate the debt over-hang, the lawmakers and others involved in this nefarious act, have continued to indulge themselves in this pastime that is so injurious to the economy and the nation as a whole.
Apart from the vexatious issue of duplication, the report of BudgIT revealed other anomalies that should worry not just the average Nigerian but also those behind the preparation of the budget document.
For instance, in the budget of the National Agency for Great Green Wall-NAGGW-, an agency set up to prevent land degradation and desertification especially in the 11 worst affected states of the country, about N1.3 billion representing 64 per cent of its allocation was dedicated to buying motorcycles, street lights among other projects, clearly outside the agency’s mandate.
Curiously, also, four recreational parks under the Ministry of Environment, which is not a security agency, earmarked N67.8m for the construction of ‘gun armories’ in Cross Rivers, Kaduna, Borno and Yobe States.
In addition, the River Basin Development Authorities, agencies under the Ministry of Water Resources established to facilitate the management of water resources for agriculture, has budgetary provision for road construction and supply of street lights.
Based on the Authorities’ budget, N6.3 billion was allocated to supplying street lights in 73 communities while N14.8 billion was allocated for the construction of 219 roads across 36 states.
How this escaped the scrutiny of the lawmakers is a serious source of concern since the majority of the roads are the responsibilities of state and local governments and not the federal government.
It needs to be stressed that, statutorily, the lawmakers are empowered to conduct budget defence exercises where they are supposed to scrutinise the proposals as presented by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
More than anything else, these revelations raise questions about the quality of the budget defence exercise conducted by the members of the National Assembly. Where they are conducted at all, they end up being occasions for back-slapping. That can only explain why such humongous figures escape the scrutiny of the ‘eagle-eyed’ lawmakers.