The National Assembly and the tradition of messing up the budget

By Jibrin Ibrahim

Once again, the National Assembly has re-written the budget, not to improve it but to privatise it by infusing it with thousands of personal projects through which they plan to make money corruptly to enrich themselves. In so doing, the have once again debased the budget by imposing on it the logic of self-serving primitive accumulation that characterize much of their legislative actions. While signing the budget on Wednesday, the President drew attention to the following. That he submitted the 2018 Budget proposals to the National Assembly on 7th November 2017 and had hoped that the usual legislative review process would be quick, so as to move Nigeria towards a predictable January-December financial year but they sat on it for over seven months.

Even more important, the National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira. The President argues that many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.

Last year, the National Assembly had inserted 1,170 new projects in the 2017 budget of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. The had increased the budget from 364.2 to 586.6 billion Naira. In massacring the budget of the ministry, they simply removed monies allocated to key national projects such as the Abuja-Lokoja dual carriageway, the 2nd Niger Bridge, the Mambila and Zungeru Hydropower projects and the Katsina Wind Farm Energy project.  They then replaced these key national projects with thousands of petty projects, mainly in their constituencies. Yes, legislators have responsibility to promote the interest of their constituencies but that cannot be done at the expense of the nation. Essentially, the National Assembly has turned the budget a completely incoherent set of monetary allocations designed to boost the egos of legislators and swell their bank accounts. Our legislators have become completely irresponsible and they must be stopped in the national interest.

The legislators have been saying that they have ultimate responsibility for finalizing the budget and they are right. However, there is a process and they cannot just do what they like. The normal process in democracies is that budgets have their origins in the manifestos and programmes of the party in power. These are then processed a three-year plans designed to achieve set objectives that have been defined by the government. Based on these plans, ministries, departments and agencies then develop multi-year projects that are then processed through architectural, engineering, ecological etc designs and surveys as well as costing. These are then broken annual budget estimates. When legislators disregard all the preparatory work that has been done and then insert pet projects, they are destroying the national plan of their own government.

Even more serious is the fact that they are putting projects the budget that have not been designed, surveyed and costed and simply putting figures that are meaningless because pet projects that have not been processed are simply not real projects. process embarked upon by legislators simply turns the budget an instrument for destroying good governance because monies are allocated to “non-projects,” It is in context that legislators go behind and collect monies they have inserted for what everybody knows is a non-project. They executive must resist type of legislative rascality but citizens also must learn to reject reducing the budget process into ego trips for legislators.

Returning to the 2018 budget, they have once again messed up the provisions for the same nationally/regionally strategic projects such as -part funding for the Mambila Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project by cutting an aggregate of 11.5 billion Naira from the allocation. Similarly, provisions for ongoing critical projects in the FCT, Abuja especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project, were cut by a total of 7.5 billion Naira. The provision for Rehabilitation and Additional Security Measures for the United Nations Building by the FCT, Abuja was cut by 3.9 billion Naira from 4 billion Naira to 100 million Naira; this will make it impossible for the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil its commitment to the United Nations on this project. As if these are not enough, the provisions for various Strategic Interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of 7.45 billion Naira. Even the safe-schools initiative suffered as the provision for security in the 104 Unity Schools across the country were cut by 3 billion Naira at a time when securing our students against acts of terrorism and/or kidnapping ought to be a major concern of government. Many more examples were cited by the President.

All these projects were replaced once again by personal pet projects. Virtually every legislator added pet projects to build roads in their constituencies. It is madness to build roads in your village that are not in any way linked to the national grid because it means you are not improving transport infrastructure but simply engaged in ego trips that does nothing to improve the movement of goods and services. It is shameful that the National Assembly increased its own budget by 14.5 billion Naira, from 125 billion Naira to 139.5 billion Naira. Clearly, their concern was to increase their elections war chest budgets rather than the development of the country. In spite of all these anomalies, the President signed because in essence, the National Assembly has established its “right” to mess up the budget as they please. I that the President was wrong to sign. He should have challenged and exposed them and insisted they behave themselves in carrying out their legislative functions.

The South East Caucus of the Senate has come out to say that the allocation for Enugu Airport agreed both by the Senate and House of Representatives. That the National Assembly allocated 2 billion naira but subsequently someone reduced it to 500 million. This means that in law, the budget presented was not the one agreed to by the National Assembly and is therefore the product of criminal tampering with a law. The budget should therefore be subject of criminal investigation to find out who changed what. The trend of irresponsible by the National Assembly must be checked if we are to improve the quality of governance in our country. Budgets are not for the whims and caprices of individual legislators, they are part of the process of governmental planning and preparations. Budget of pet projects are not budgets and through the regimes of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and now Buhari, legislators have transformed budgets into objects that serve two purposes, inflate the egos and electability of legislators with pet projects and insert budget lines for corrupt acts that will make them richer. Governments and civil society must mobilise to stop this legislative rascality that is becoming the norm in our society.