2017 Appropriation Bill: Between National Assembly and Civil Society

By Abubakar Jimoh

It is no more news that the Nigeria’s budgetary process has hitherto been faced with inherent systemic secrecy, resulting in inadequate allocation to the social sector of the economy and grossly neglect of citizens’ democratic expectations.

Appreciating the fact that effective participation and contribution of citizens in the budgetary process remain paramount to achieving proper monitoring, transparency and accountability in the appropriation, release and utilisation of funds, the National Assembly in collaboration with Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), UK Department for International Development (UKAID) and Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) recently organised a first ever 3-day Public Hearing on 2017 Appropriation Bill.

The Public Hearing, which for the first time brought under one roof all stakeholders involved in the budget process, provided an enabling platform for public analysis, discourse and enlightenment on the basic recommendations and budget policies of the nation as contained in the 2017 Budget Proposal by the President Muhammadu Buhari; and the fiscal, financial and economic assumptions used as basis in arriving at total estimated expenditure and receipts.

In his opening remark, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, did not conceal the importance of citizens’ participation and contribution in the budget process when he noted that public budget, “if well-crafted and implemented, remains the most potent fiscal policy instrument of government in delivering socio-economic benefits in an all-inclusive manner; and, the best way to achieve this is to ensure that all stakeholders are made a part of the decision-making process especially as it relates to the provision of public services and distribution of social benefits”.

The Senate President continued: “It is therefore, in line with this belief that the 8th National Assembly deemed it necessary to bring Government, Civil Society Organisations, Private Sector, and other key actors in the economy to deliberate on the Budget proposal. Through this engagement, and others to come, we hope to increase the efficiency of government and its responsiveness to citizens needs as well as improve overall transparency and accountability in governance.”

He said the 2017 Budget Proposal of N7.298 trillion submitted to the Assembly was designed based on a medium-term recovery and growth plan and planned expenditures would be objectively reviewed, as related to their feasibility and relevance in delivering the broad objectives of the budget—to pull the economy out of recession; invest in the people of Nigeria; and lay the foundations for a diversified, sustainable and inclusive growth.

In order to enhance the aforementioned objectives of the budget, Sen. Saraki added that the Assembly under his leadership will continue to focus on priority legislation that will loosen the structural bottlenecks impeding the ease-of-doing business in the country. The priority legislation in his words will include: National Transport Commission Bill; National Road Fund Bill; National Road Authority Bill; National Inland Waterways Bill; Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill; Infrastructure Development Commission Bill, Petroleum Institution and Governance Bill; Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill will unstiffen the investment climate in critical sectors of the economy.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara explained that the Public Hearing was organised in fulfilment of one of the major transparency and accountability goals enshrine in the 8th Assembly’s adopted Legislative Agenda in 2015 with commitment that “[t]he House shall examine the efficacy of conducting public hearings on the Budget before legislative approval as this exposes the National Budget to increased citizen and stakeholder participation”.

He reiterated the explicit power of the Assembly in control over public funds as contains section 80 of the 1999 Constitution, which asserts in principles that all monies received from whatever source by any part of the government are public funds; lays down the principle of Appropriations Control; and prohibits expenditure of any public money without legislative authorization.

The Speaker encouraged the stakeholders to effectively utilise the opportunity offered by the legislature to interrogate the budget document and ensure that the needs and priorities of the people hold sway. “Stakeholders in their various fields of expertise and active players in all aspects of the economy are invited to make their inputs and assist the National Assembly in passing a truly peoples’ budget that will set us on the path to sustainable economic recovery,” he urged.

Hon. Dogara further noted that being an advocate for transparency and accountability in budgetary process largely informed his famous position that “[s]ubjecting the annual budget to public scrutiny at National Assembly will give stakeholders opportunity to make their inputs and challenge incorrect assumptions in the Budget. This process will involve the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other professional bodies. The National Assembly will benefit from the research skills of various CSOs and the technical expertise of professional bodies at the enactment stage of the Appropriations Bill. Many CSOs scrutinise the Budget yearly and usually point out areas of duplications and wastage. We need to institutionalise this mechanism.”

In a memorandum, the Primary Healthcare Revitalisation Support Group represented by its Chair also Wife of the Senate President, Mrs Toyin Saraki, called for implementation of the National Health Act 2014 by setting aside not less than 1 percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the Basic Health Care Provisions Fund.

“The Guidelines for the administration, disbursement and monitoring of the Fund is virtually completed. The 2017 budget should prioritize this, setting aside 49bn as statutory transfer,” she said.

The Chair urged the Assembly to back the provision for the revitalization of 1 Primary Health Centre per ward (10,000) with the right budget, noting that N3bn for 1000 PHCs in 2017 would lay a good foundation for an ambition that ends in 2019.

Mrs Saraki noted: “Although Primary Health Care is not the primary responsibility of the Federal Government, it should provide resources in form of grants to States and LGAs given that over 70% of disease burden in the country lies at the primary level. Specifically, given that rehabilitation of just 1,000 out of about 10,000 PHCs in the Country is largely insignificant.

“The Federal Government should provide for additional N6b in the 2017 budget to enable her rehabilitate at least 3,000 out of about 10,000 PHCs in the Country ear marked for rehabilitation. Funding options for this could include: additional funding from the PROPOSED INCREASE IN OIL BENCHMARK PRICE in the 2017 budget; and deduction from source of money from the next round of Paris Club Refund to States to enable them budget for the rehabilitation of some PHCs in 2017, 2018 and 2019.”

The Chair further warned on the severe impacts of shortfall in the immunization funding urging sustainable strategic plan and adequate budgetary allocation to ensure a biennial funding mechanism for routine vaccines is made in 2017. “While funding for 2017 is largely taken care of (but for a funding gap of N1.5bn), the provision for 2018 was ignored, which could create procurement challenges to meet immunization needs for Nigerian children in 2018. FGN should put in place the policy and legal framework for sustainable immunization financing and develop a transition plan to address the accelerated loss of GAVI support in the next 5 years,” she advised.

In a presentation to the Assembly, the Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD) Dr. Otive Igbuzor, lamented lack of participatory budgetary process, where citizens and communities do not participate in formulating policies and agreeing on projects that go into the budget.

He noted: “The budgetary process is not open. Corruption in any country starts from the budgetary process. In very corrupt countries, the budget is done in secret. Releases are done without the knowledge of citizens. Procurement information is not made available to citizens and corruption is guarded and protected. This is why civil society organisations in Nigeria have been advocating for an open budget system.  A budget is regarded as open if citizens have access to the key budget documents; have high level of involvement in the budgetary process and have access to procurement information.

“The priorities of the budget are not in accord with the development challenges of the country and there is no synergy between plans, policy and budget. We have always argued that there is the need for better public finance management across the world because of increasing inequality and non-inclusive growth. The past five decades have witnessed monumental changes in the world. Global economic wealth has increased sevenfold and average incomes have tripled.  Yet, poverty has increased to record high levels. The major problem is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people while majority of the people live in abject poverty.”

The Executive Director continued: “There are several frivolous expenditures in the budget that will not stand any reasoning and logic. For instance, the Centre for Social Justice documented N668.8 billion frivolous expenditure in the 2016 budget. They include N3.91 billion allocated annual reporting maintenance of villa facilities; N322.4 million for linking of cable to drivers’ rest room at the villa; N213.8 million for linking of cable from guest house to generator house etc.

“The institutions and mechanisms for oversight of the budgetary process are weak. In any modern democracy, the legislature, civil society and media are expected to play oversight functions in addition to the internal control system put in place by the executive.  There is also the need for synergy and co-ordination between the Executive and NASS in budget preparations.”

Commenting on main issues in the 2017 Budget Proposal, he bemoaned low budgetary allocation to sectors that will have impact on the lives of citizens such as agriculture, 1.69%; health, 4.17%; education, 4.17%.

The Centre LSD’s boss observed that frivolous expenditure has continued over the years. Examples are foodstuff and cateral materials had a budget of N92.6 million in 2016 and N123.2 million in 2017; newspapers had a budget of N10.2 million in 2016 and N28.3 million in 2017 (This translates to 387 newspapers per day at N200 per newspaper for 365 days).

Dr. Igbuzor, however, commended the special initiatives in the proposed budget with social inclusion benefits including provision of N100 billion for a new social housing programme; N50billion for each geopolitical zone to set up special economic zone; N20billion to revive export-expansion grant; N15billion to recapitalise Bank of Industry (BOI) and Bank of Agriculture (BoA) and N500billion special intervention programme.

Compared to the past, there are some positive improvements in the 2017 budget. There is a slight improvement in capital budgetary allocation although the change is not big enough. There are some progressive initiatives in line with the ideological commitment to social democracy including social protection initiatives and social housing.

In another presentation to the Assembly, the Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice, Barr. Eze Onyepere, explained that though the National Health Act 2014 provides for 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to be appropriated as a statutory transfer to the Basic Health Care Provisions Fund, the missing Basic Health Care Provision Fund since the introduction of the Act remains a major challenge.

“For the past two years, the executive and legislature have ignored this provision and this has continued in the 2017 estimates.”

The Executive Director observed the frivolities, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful expenditure when he questioned the repetitive demand for computers and software, vehicles, furnishing of offices, which should not have space in a budget to get Nigeria out of recession.

“Voting money in an unclear way that does not tell the story of what exactly the vote is for is not a best practice. Agriculture for instance votes lump sums running into billions for value chains of maize, potato, cassava, etc. The meaning of this is only known to the person who crafted the budget. Voting N237.9 million for subscription to professional bodies under the SGF’s office raises the poser of how many staff works in the office. These estimates should be removed from the budget and the sums saved should be reprogrammed to capital expenditure,” he requested.

Barr. Onyepere recommended that the budget’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) should be anchored on high level national policies and planning frameworks such as Vision 20:2020 and its implementation plans. “With the expiry of Vision 20:2020’s First National Implementation Plan 2010-2013, and the absence of a follow up implementation plan which should have been the NIP 2014-2017, the budget seems to rests on nothing. However, there is a reference to the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) which for all intents and purposes is not a policy or plan stricto sensu to qualify as the anchor of the budget,” he added.

Speaking from the perspective of youth development, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth, and Advancement (YIAGA) noted that the Ministry of Youth Development have over the years been constrained in actually delivering its mandate of formulating, monitoring and review of the National Youth Policy; articulating relevant programs of action for youth development; coordinating youth and monitor youth development activities at the three levels of government an collaborating partners; collaborating with all stakeholders for the funding of youth activities; creating opportunities for the youth to be involved in decision making process in matters that affect them, the environment and the society; and inculcating in the youth human rights values, social justice, equity, fairness and gender equality.

YIAGA observed over-concentration on National Youth Service Corps, resulting in poor budgeting for youth development. “Interestingly, the budget for the Ministry of Youth in four (4) consecutive years from 2014 to 2017 proposed budget reveals that the in each fiscal year, the larger percentage of the budget for the Ministry is gulped by the national Youth Service Corps which is an agency under the oversight of the Ministry at an average of  91%.

“An estimated 250,000 Nigerian youths participate in the NYSC program every year – compared to the Nigerian youths, between the ages of 18 – 35, as defined in Nigeria’s National Youth Policy and the African Youth Charter who constitute approximately 70% of Nigeria’s 180 million population – there is an urgent need to increase budgetary allocations for youth development,” it explained.

Similarly, a memorandum presented by the National Youth Council of Nigeria noted lack of coordination and synergy in the budgetary implementation for youth development, as majority of Ministries Departments and Agencies implement programmes on Youth Development without the involvement of Federal Ministry of Youth Development, thus making effective monitoring, evaluation, and adequate record keeping difficult

The Executive Secretary, Legislative Watch, Hon. Ngozika Ihuoma, in his submission said the proposed budget could not be acknowledged as a true reflection of the Federal Government accruals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund as it failed to address the leakages contained in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, when over N4trillion budget of Corporations, Agencies and Government-owned Companies which got zero allocation in 2016 following failure to capture them in the 2016 Appropriation Act or laid as Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2016 and payable from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government in line with Section 81(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The Executive Secretary advised the Assembly as custodian of the 1999 Constitution to ensure the States and Local Government Councils get their fair share as provided by the Constitution.

The Nigerian Medical Association in its submission urged the legislature to declare a state of emergency in the health sector in view of the on-going disastrous nature of the health care delivery environment.

“This should not only be verbalized in the usual way, but backed with appropriate budget line. Health is security. Health is development. Health is wealth’. Thus Nigeria should work to own its health rather than abandoning it to development partners whose priorities may not be in line with our national interest,” it warned.

The Association encourage Nigeria to avoid over-reliance on donor agencies with critical consideration for alternative and independent sources of funding health sector in the face of declining donor funding, adding that the nation can afford to allocate 15% of her national budget to health as contained in the Abuja Declaration of 2001.

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