Fiscal transparency groups have raised red flags over a total of N124.63 billion in frivolous, suspicious, inflated projects inputted in the federal government’s 2022 budget of N16.8 trillion. These projects raise critical questions over whether or not the Buhari administration still reserves any fiscal transparency toga. If not, as could be seen in the proposed, then grave questions surround the administration’s anti-corruption stance.
Expectedly, the fiscal transparency promoters, indicate that the red flag over the incongruities in the 2022 budget tend to deflate the Buhari government’s much vaunted intolerance for sleaze.
BudgIT, foremost fiscal transparency group, states that the proposed projects are frivolous, suspicious and inflated and have asked the National Assembly to expunge the frivolous and suspicious items, and slash the ones seen to have been inflated.
For instance, the federal ministry of education’s planned N300 million for construction and furnishing of a recreational gym at the ministry’s headquarters, is described as “a misplaced priority given the lamentable state of public education infrastructure, the number of out-of-school children and the country’s outdated university curriculum in key courses.”
The group urged the National Assembly to “eliminate this line item because staff can explore paid subscriptions in private gyms. This sum should be vired to the procurement of classroom furniture and learning equipment in Federal Unity Colleges as N200 million budgeted for this activity is grossly inadequate”.
Perhaps eminently “suspicious” is the N150 million being proposed to pay consultants for the creation of Nigeria’s National Carrier which was launched since July 2018 at the Farnborough International Public Air show in London.
“It is a suspicious waste of public funds. N186m and N190m were allocated in the 2019 and 2021 approved budgets for the same line item,” said BudgIT. It is therefore, asking the National Assembly to “expunge this item and such funds should be used to provide additional screening points at the MMIA terminal and improve baggage scanning equipment that leads to delays in loading passengers’ luggage.”
Curiouser and more suspicious is N400 million set to be used as “working capital for the establishment of the National Carrier.” For BudgIT, the National Assembly “should expunge this item, and such funds should be used to provide additional screening points at the MMIA terminal and improve baggage scanning equipment (that leads to delays in loading passengers’ luggage). Provision of ‘Working Capital’ for a non-operational National Carrier (which was launched in July 2018 at the Farnborough International Public Air show in London) is a suspicious waste of public funds.”
The fiscal transparency group indicated that N2.29 billion and N500 million were allocated in 2020 and 2021 as “working capital” for the National Carrier. It asked the federal government to “let the private sector lead in this sector, while FG creates an optimal regulatory environment.”
BudgIT listed as “inflated” and somewhat outrageous, the “construction of a presidential wing at the State House Medical Centre.” According to the fiscal transparency body, the sums of N395 million, N416 million and N1.06 billion were allocated for the same project in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 federal budgets, respectively.
“It is outrageous that this 14-bed presidential wing still needs N21.9 billion. The National Assembly should review this downwards. Savings from the revised allocation should be reallocated to refurbish and equip at least 500 dilapidated Primary Health Care Centres across Nigeria,” the group advised.
What with the N15 billion allocated as “subscription to shares in international organisations,” whereas the Nigerian federal government in 2019, 2020 and 2021, approved N28 billion, N15 billion and N15 billion for this line item. BudgIT says, “We are unsure of the ultimate use of these subscriptions to the nation. We recommend that the amount be reviewed by the National Assembly”.
Meanwhile, the N22.55 billion to be used to purchase vehicles for 212 government agencies is seen by fiscal transparency experts as sheer priority misplacement at a time the macroeconomy suffers from a near runaway inflation, extremely declined capacity in the manufacturing sector, and disturbing insecurity marked by kidnapping, banditry, amid growing agitation for self-determination.
“Additional vehicles will merely elongate the convoys of senior government officials to the detriment of other critical infrastructure,” said budget advocacy experts. They strongly advocate for the National Assembly to “slash the allocations to motor vehicles across board and reallocate the savings towards the purchase of shared ambulance vehicles and services especially for rural areas”.
Another inflated project is N18.4 billion earmarked for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) whereas the majority of the agencies requesting this budget allocations already have M&E staff on their payroll, separate travel allowances to project sites, and allocations for vehicles amongst others key M&E cost drivers. Budget transparency groups want the National Assembly to revise the M&E allocations of all agencies affected and reallocate the funds saved to strengthen the M&E function of the budget and [national] planning office.
Despite the warning from the budget office of the federation for MDAs to utilize local training as much as possible, the latter went ahead to propose N11.24 billion “for logistics and cost of international training. A total of 58 agencies have a budget for international training summing up to N3.94 billion, while 195 agencies have budgets for travels for international training summing up to N7.3 billion.
With the new normal forced on by Covid-19, most conferences and workshops are now attended virtually. Hence, BudgIT wants the National Assembly to slash the overall international travel budget by at least 50 percent, with funds saved vired to other priority areas like the provision and rehabilitation of primary health care centres across the country.
Ridiculously inflated is the allocation of N3.78 billion for only “refreshments & meals” for guests and government officials at 538 federal agencies. Fiscal transparency groups see this as inflated, especially as there is an additional N176 billion allocated for “meals for government schools/ institutions.” They recommend the National Assembly to significantly cut the proposed allocation for meals and refreshment; and redirect the funds to priority areas in the budgets of the respective MDAs.
For BudgIT, the N30 billion allocated as “contributions to international organisations” under line item “service wide votes” in the ministry of budget, finance and national planning has no disaggregation nor clear breakdown. “We recommend that this line item be reviewed downward, as we are not convinced that such cost is realistic in the country’s current fiscal climate,” the body said.
Outrageously inflated is the N1 billion proposed for “road signages and other road furniture on federal highways” apparently by the ministry of works and housing. Meanwhile, N453.79 million, N183.44 million, N500 million were allocated to this line item in the 2019, 2020, and 2021 budgets respectively. The figure jumped twice in the proposed 2022 appropriation.
BudgIT wants the MDA to justify the sharp increase in the cost of the proposed activity. “If such MDA cannot justify the increase, excess funds should be reallocated to health/ education infrastructure projects implemented by the MDA.
It is now left for the National Assembly to do its bid; whereas the Buhari administration should assert itself if it is still truly at the vanguard of shooting down corruption in Nigeria.