Eze Onyekpere is Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, which has been in the forefront of advocating for fiscal responsibility and transparency in public spending. He speaks on the lapses in the 2012 budget.
Q: What’s your assessment of the 2012 budget in terms of its fiscal prudence and monitoring its implementation?
A: I would say that the 2012 budget, particularly in terms of its cardinal objectives appear to be beautiful and sound. But the problem and challenges we have always faced is in implementation. If you look at what has happened in the past, we always have a budget where the recurrent component is usually fully implemented. The recurrent component, that is salaries and overheads, are always drawn down.
The problem is always with the capital component which is actually 28 percent of the total budget. And of that 28 percent, 65 percent of it is administrative capital.
There are two parts of the capital. The administrative ones are the cars, furniture and office buildings. The real developmental capital is the hospitals, schools and the social infrastructure that impact directly on the people.
The challenge is always government’s willingness and ability to fully implement the capital budget. Over the years, we have had the capital budget implemented up to 65 percent. And even what they say they implement is about what is released sum, not the whole 65 percent component of the capital budget.
That is why for about three to four years, they have moved the capital budget year to the first quarter of the next year. The one for 2011 rounded off in March 2012.
What we have done as at today is to educate and sensitize Nigerians. First, we reviewed the budget before it was passed and pointed out the areas of shortcomings and asking the authorities to minimize them.
Q: So the Citizens Wealth Platform was part of the budget making process?
Yes, we were. Not that anybody invited us but we are Nigerian citizens with an obligation under the constitution to render assistance to the fiscal authorities. We published the review we did, submitted it to the budget office and also gave copies to members of the National Assembly. Every senator and member of the House of Representatives got a copy.
Q: Were your inputs looked at?
When the budget was passed we did another review and we discovered that over 90 percent of our proposals were ignored. That was when we published the document titled “In the Name of Appropriation All Things Are Possible”.
But we are not leaving it there. We have done a pullout of the capital budget by geo political zone and in each area we break it down to state by state.
What we are doing is that before the end of June we are going to go to all the geo political zones and hand these documents to community development associations, market women groups, artisan groups and so on, telling them about things that have been put in the budget for their communities so that they can follow up.
For instance, in the budget, you find NAPEP has a vote for poverty reduction in Oyo Central for N250 million. We don’t know whether it is NAPEP that will handle it or if they will give it to legislators – senators and members of the House – to handle.
So it is important for the people in Oyo Central to know that there is a N250 million appropriated for them.
In the past we have seen senators and House members buy some keke NAPEP, motorcycles, sewing and grinding machines and distribute to the people. We do not know whether the money for that came from their personal pocket or if they are executing the capital budget of the federal government.
Whatever the case, it is important for the people to have the information and start to ask questions. We are going to hold town hall meetings in the communities and distribute these documents so that people will know and begin to ask questions.
We are tired of a few NGOs asking the questions and becoming predictable. It is better for the people at the grassroots to begin to ask the questions.
As we are doing this we are also sensitizing them to know how they can participate in the making of the 2013 budget. The idea is that between now and December it will be possible to reach up to 20 million Nigerians so that more people can join this crusade of monitoring budget implementation.
Q: You talked about frivolous expenditure. What are some of the ones you noticed?
There are so many of them. Of course everybody knows of the huge feeding allowance of the president. Everybody knows about huge sums spent on watering lawns in the Villa.
Everybody knows about repetitive demands for the renovation and purchase of guest houses for the vice president. And you have the ministry of petroleum resources budgeting N126 million for spectacles which was approved for them.
You have the ministry of finance, encompassing the main ministry, the budget office and the accountant general’s office, asking for over N240 million for welfare and close N300 million for food and catering.
You also have the office of the head of service getting N80 million for a road map on the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA.
And you have the ministry of agriculture’s budget where you find repetitive votes for fertilizer, seedlings and so on all coming to over N26 billion.
And the minister of agriculture told a lie to Nigerians that there is no more budget for fertilizer when it is clear that N26.8 billion is in the budget and it is not disaggregated in terms of where they are going to distribute the fertilizer, seedlings and other things they claim they will buy.
In spite of all the things we pointed out nothing was done. It appears that the National Assembly did not do its home work. Funny enough I heard a senator talking about wherein lies the power of appropriation between the executive and the legislature.
The senator was telling the executive to ensure that the 2012 budget is implemented, complaining that they always blackmail the legislature of passing a budget that cannot be implemented. And he said that because of this they allowed the budget to pass virtually the way it came from the executive so that there would be no excuse not to implement the budget.
I think that that is an abdication of duty if that reflects what the National Assembly did.
Some people say the problem with budgeting in Nigeria starts with the civil servants who prepare budgets in the ministries and government agencies. It is said that they do not have the training or capacity to produce reliable and realistic budgets.
I do not think it is a matter of training. These people have been trained endlessly with money coming from IMF, World Bank and other donor agencies, even the federal government. It is a question of lack of political will.
For instance they are supposed to start with what is called the Medium Term Sector Strategy, MTSS. Every MDA is supposed to develop a strategy and an envelope and do a budget and the finance minister gathers everything, does a Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, which should go to the federal executive council for approval. After approval then you pull out the budget for each year. But these processes are perfunctorily followed.
So I think that the problem is that of a lack of a political will not that these people have not been trained or not. They have had enough training.
How do you think these waste and frivolous votes in the budget can be stopped?
The answer is straight forward. A man or woman who comes into your house to cart away your property is doing so because he thinks he will overpower you. The people must come together and say an emphatic no and reclaim the fiscal space from the vagabonds in power.
Impoverished Nigerians never get interested in fiscal governance issues.
I insist that Nigerians must come together using civil society, their community based associations and faith based organization. There must be a price for those in power to pay for the frivolous expenditure in the budget. If there is no price we will continue to waste our resources
What have you really done with the result of your review? Have you presented it to the EFCC or the ICPC for example?
I just said that we gave a copy to every member of the National Assembly because we thought it was within the legislative competence of the legislature. Well, we can send it to the EFCC and ICPC.
It is really worrisome that the budget just lays the grounds for corruption with the implementation of most votes impossible to track. And there appears to be a conspiracy to use the budget to perpetrate corruption
It is unfortunate. The legislature is supposed to check the executive and the executive is somehow also supposed to check the legislature but if there is a conspiracy between the man who is supposed to do the job and the supervisor what happens?
The executive and legislature are in an incestuous relationship. And, with due respect to that institution, the judiciary is corrupt and does not have what it takes to call them to order. So it is only the people that can reclaim the fiscal space. If we wait for the legislature or executive nothing will happen