Following the presentation of the 2017 Appropriation Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly last year, there have been growing criticisms of some budgetary allocations proposed for the State House in Abuja by Nigerians.
Specifically, not a few finance experts and social commentators have described the huge budgetary allocation to the seat of power as a negation of the purported essence of the budget, tagged, ‘budget of economic recovery and growth.’
Nobody is asking the Presidency not to eat or meet other needs, but it should lead by example and cut down on all avoidable expenses. You cannot expect Nigerians to be happy, when they are hungry while their President and his aides live large
Checks by The Point revealed that the allocation for the State House had increased alarmingly from about N23.5 billion in 2015, during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan, to N42.9 billion in 2017, representing an increase of almost 100 per cent. Out of the total, the sum of N19.9 billion is earmarked as total capital budget, while the total recurrent budget stands at N22, 947,666,214.
The agencies under the State House include the State House Headquarters, the Office of the President, the Office of the Vice President, Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Office of the Chief Security Officer to the President, State House Medical Centre, State House Lagos Liaison Office, Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, among others. But the cross-section of respondents who spoke with The Point expressed displeasure that the current administration, in spite of the challenges facing the economy, could yet appropriate humongous sums of money for what they described as “the least issues affecting the economy.”
Some respondents noted that while the Buhari led-administration slashed the salaries of some civil servants in October/November 2016, it allocated about N6.311 billion for residential rent, sewage charge, rehabilitation/repairs of residential buildings and honorarium/sitting allowance for the Villa.
For instance, details of the budget revealed that the allocation for sewage charges for Aso Rock rose from N6.1 million in 2016 to N52.8 million in the 2017 Appropriation Bill. This means that about N144, 658 is earmarked to be spent daily on clearance of sewages in 2017. The allocation went up astronomically by 1,050 per cent compared to the 2015 budget, and 850 per cent when compared to the 2016 budget. The allocation for ‘Honorarium/ Sitting Allowance’ is N556, 592,736; N49 million higher than the 2016 allocation and N382.1 million higher than that of 2015. The State House Headquarters budget for ‘Residential Rent’ in 2015 was N22,459,575 and N27,735,643 in 2016. But in the 2017 supposed budget of ‘Recovery and Growth,’ it skyrocketed to N77,545,700, recording an increase of about 300 per cent.
Allocation for ‘Rehabilitation/ Repairs of Residential Buildings’ in the 2016 budget was N642,568,122, but this grew astronomically to N5,625,752,757 in the 2017 proposal, despite the fact that it took the President a little while before he eventually moved into Aso Rock in 2015, citing rehabilitation/repairs of the Villa back then. Speaking on the development, a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria, Mr. Peter Adebayo urged the government to explain to Nigerians what brought about the astronomical increases.
He said that with the peculiar nature of our economic and political environment, Nigerians deserved to know the details of the allocations, otherwise, the government and, indeed, the nation stood the risk of investors’ confidence being eroded.
According to him, such increases are capable of pushing the economy into further trouble because there are indications that the recession will be harder on Nigerians in 2017. “If the government allocates that much to feeding and honorarium, it is like feeding fat on the tax payers,” he added.
An aviation consultant, Mr. Ben Ahigbe, on his part, said that, though every item on the budget must have reasons for money allocated to it, this would not justify the allocation of such huge funds to the Presidency at the expense of Nigerians.
“Nobody is asking the Presidency not to eat or meet other needs, but it should lead by example and cut down on all avoidable expenses. You cannot expect Nigerians to be happy, when they are hungry while their President and his aides live large,” he told The Point.
According to him, the National Assembly should slash some of the allocations and divert the funds to the power and transportation sectors in order to grow the economy and ensure that several moribund companies are revived.
An insurance expert with Leadway Assurance, Mr. Adenekan Sarumi, blamed the development on the Budget Office, which he claimed was negligent. He said the office should have asked questions when compiling the figures before it finally got to the Presidency for approval and presentation.
He said, “A measure should be put in place where officials will be designated to check what has been taken care of in previous budgets and what needs to be done in a newly proposed budget, rather than a hurried compilation of figures, which has always been the case with the Nigerian budget system.
“The government has failed to consider the implication of the figures churned out to the public on the psyche and productivity of citizens.”
BUDGET PROCESS BUREAUCRATIC – Economists
A renowned economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, noted that the budgeting process had always been a bureaucratic process that did not reflect certain goals in the economy. “Whatever it is the government has been doing, it shows a pattern of everything not adding up.
The Presidency should emulate its American counterpart, where the President pays for every food eaten in the White House from his salary because he has to be careful of his spending. But the Nigerian system is one in which we have public office holders living off tax payers’ money,” he told The Point.
Another economist, Mr. Alaba Olusemore, argued that the overhead cost of running the State House should be put under check, just as the government urged individuals to control their personal expenses. To him, this will show that the country is actually going through a recession, because income cannot be declining while operating expenses are increasing.
He added that, in spite of the fact that the prices of goods and services were actually rising, the Federal Government must try to do away with some unnecessary expenses, adding that there should be more of bargaining, so that an increase would not be an option. Olusemore, who is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, recalled that the government started zero-based budgeting system, when it cut expenses from ground zero or removed some items from the budget, but expressed shock that items like ‘residential rent’ were recurring.
“I don’t understand; it may be a wrong classification of purpose. Government should try and spell out this expenditure for more clarification,” he said. On the import of such development on Nigerians, Olusemore expressed the belief that it might have a negative psychological impact on the citizens.
“This does contradict the ‘Change Begins with Me Initiative’. It is just like the head of a household, who complains that his income is reducing or stagnant and his personal lifestyle in terms of expenditure is increasing; his family will not believe him and will want to be asking for more from him. And of course, such development can have sociological impact on the economy in terms of social vices being on the increase,” he stated.