The 2017 budget can best be described as a special gift that keeps on giving, and not in a good way: although it has finally been passed by the National Assembly five months after it was presented to them and it includes the breakdown of the budget of the federal legislature itself for the first time in more than a decade, it has not ceased to be controversial.
First, it is the budget breakdown of the National Assembly. Like the larger budget, it is filled with ridiculous line items that cannot be justified. For instance, the National Assembly is planning to spend N7.7billion on vehicles this year alone. It is not just that this translates into a high number of vehicles; it is also that vehicles are budgeted for every year. It then raises the question if these cars depreciate after only one year, which will not be possible.
But this is not the only item budgeted for that raises eyebrows: almost N500m to purchase photocopying machines, IT connectivity for the Assembly for N694m, insurance of properties for N1.62billion, cleaning services for N606m and miscellaneous at N300m. The list goes on and on.
Because it is the National Assembly itself that screens the entire budget, who then screens the budget of the National Assembly? Not only that, in not releasing the budget estimates prior to the passing of the bill, they were able to avoid the backlash of such obviously inflated and ridiculous line items.
In this era of recession, it is quite a shame that the National Assembly is engaging in extravagant spending rather than cutting down costs and trimming their waste. It is such spending that makes Nigerians have a very low level of trust for them, especially as what is spent on them does not correlate with the results obtained.
But the controversies of the budget are not only at the legislative level – the executive is ensuring that they do not take all the shine. It was revealed by the Senate that 31 federal agencies had not submitted their budgets to the National Assembly. These 31 agencies, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Nigerian Ports Authority, are all revenue-generating.
Although by virtue of being revenue generating they do not require funding from the Federal Government, they are still required to submit their budgets to the National Assembly in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act through their supervising ministers and shall form part of the Appropriation Bill. However, these agencies have routinely abused their positions as revenue-generating agencies by spending monies without appropriation.
This is the second year running in which these agencies have acted this way: last year, it was not until November 2016 that the budget of the Federal Inland Revenue Service was being considered by the National Assembly, six months after the Appropriation Bill had been signed into law by the President.
This non-submission of the budget flouts the Fiscal Responsibility Act and forces the President to submit supplementary appropriation bills in order to accommodate these erring agencies. It is quite a disappointment that the Presidency continues to allow these agencies to behave in such manner without any sanctions.
Lastly, the confusion caused by the comment of the Information Minister over who will sign the bill was one controversy too many. It does not only concern the appropriation bill directly but also raises questions on what exactly are the powers of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It behoves the Federal Government and the National Assembly to sort out the madness around the 2017 Appropriation Bill so that the business of governance can proceed smoothly.