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Senate tells Buhari to come for budget presentation with only ‘few key staff’

Senate's call for lean presidential entourage for budget presentation highlights need to reduce cost of governance 

IF President Muhammadu Buhari complies with an instruction given by the Senate on Wednesday, just a few people will be in his entourage when he goes to the National Assembly to present the 2021 budget estimates on Thursday.

At Wednesday’s plenary, Senate President Ahmed Lawan announced that only those involved in the actual preparation of the budget should accompany Buhari for the event.

Buhari is expected to present the 2021 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly tomorrow (Thursday).

Outlining the National Assembly’s plans for the budget presentation ceremony, the Senate President said, “This time around because of the situation of COVID-19 pandemic, we have made arrangements to observe social distancing in the chamber.‎

“We also have to wear or face masks mandatorily. We are going to also abridge the entire event because we will be many there.

“So the entire event will last just about an hour. From the entry of the President into the chamber and addresses and the presentation and laying will be just an hour event.

“This is done so that we would be able to comply with the requirements of the COVID-19 protocol.

“Mr. President this time around will not be accompanied by many people on the entourage.

‎“Only a few people – very key and relevant to the budget – will accompany Mr. President into the chamber. ‎I think by the arrangement those of them that have little to do with the budget will join virtually what will happen.”‎

The National Assembly’s call for a lean presidential entourage for the budget presentation ceremony might have been informed by a need for social distancing, in compliance with COVID-19 prevention guidelines, but it has also highlighted the need to drastically reduce the huge of governance in the country – a need that has become very urgent against the backdrop of dwindling revenue and spiralling public debt.

Over the years, successive governments have identified the obvious need to reduce the cost of governance, but they all ended up paying lip service to the issue, while at the same time, taking actions‎ that further worsened the situation.

Despite trillions accruing to the country as revenue from oil each year, Nigerians are still confronted with inadequate infrastructure and a major reason for the situation is the fact that most of the country’s funds go into recurrent expenditure, such as payment of salaries and allowances, purchase of vehicles, accommodation, medical expenses and others.

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And in a country where political office comes with mind-boggling perks, including wardrobe, furniture and vehicle allowances, it is not surprising that recurrent expenditure, which takes us a greater proportion of annual budgets, will continue to increase of political office holders appoint numerous aides into even unnecessary positions just to service political patronage.

In the revised 2020 budget, out of the N10.8 trillion budgeted by the Federal Government, N4.9 trillion – the largest share of the budget – went to recurrent expenditure while capital expenditure got just N2.4 trillion – less than 50 percent of the amount allocated for recurrent expenditure.

Interestingly, N2.9 trillion – more than the amount voted for capital expenditure – was earmarked for debt servicing.

It was a similar tale in 2019, when, out of the N8.91 trillion Federal Government budget, N4.05 trillion went to recurrent expenditure leaving just N2.09 trillion for capital expenditure.

This is despite the fact that the Federal Government claims that most of the borrowings made in recent times, which has taken the country’s total public debt portfolio to about N31.01 trillion, as at June 2020, was to fund capital projects.

While campaigning before the 2015 presidential election, the All Progressives Congress had, in its manifesto promised to have a leaner government bureaucracy when elected into office but, since 2015, it’s administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has not fulfilled the promise. Rather, Buhari has actually done the opposite – when he named his cabinet in 2019, he created five new ministers and appointed ministers for each of them, thereby increasing the cost of governance by enlarging the size of the bureaucracy.

The constitution stipulated that each of the country’s 36 states must have a minister, but, at the moment Buhari has 44 ministers. In most of the ministries, the Ministers of State are merely filling in positions without any practical roles assigned to them. And this situation extends to countless aides, whose remunerations contribute to bloating the cost of governance without any measurable benefit to the country.

Hopes that the longstanding problem of the huge cost of governance would be addressed once and for all were raised when, on the occasion of the Democracy Day on June 12, 2020, Buhari promised that the White Paper on the rationalisation of government parastatals and agencies would be reviewed for implementation.

The White Paper, also known as the Oronsaye Report, was the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, under the chairmanship of Mr. Steve Oronsaye, which was set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.

The 800-page report contained far-reaching recommendations on ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government that should be scrapped, those to be merged and those to become self-funding, in order to free funds for much needed capital projects across‎ the country.

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While Buhari’s pronouncement that the White Paper would be finally implemented is yet to materialise, the government’s body language suggests that it is still business as usual and even more new ‎agencies are to be created.

Despite misgivings over duplications in the functions of the anti-corruption agencies – the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, as well as the police, the Federal Executive Council in September approved a bill that seeks to, among other things, create a new agency that will be saddled with the responsibility of managing proceeds of crimes in the country. The proposed agency is, from the title of the bill, to be known as ‘Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency’. By the time the agency becomes functional, ‎it will have its own personnel, require office accommodation and other logistics, all of which would further bloat the cost of governance by bloating the Federal Government’s recurrent expenditure.

As of May 2020, there were about 142 presidential aides attached to the President, his wife, the Vice President, the Vice President’s wife, and the President’s Chief of Staff. The list includes about eight Special Advisers to the President, 55 Senior Special Assistants, 64 Special Assistants, and 15 Personal Assistants.

Ministers also have their own aides, and in fact, even aides have been known to also have a retinue of aides.

In normal situations, nearly all the presidential ‎aides would accompany the President to major events, such as the budget presentation and the large entourage that would be brought about by the development would become a major burden for security agents, who in their overzealous quest to protect the ‘VIPs’, end up harassing ‘ordinary’ people.

The large fleet of expensive vehicles that form the convoys of major public office holders, particularly those of the President, state governors, and principal officers of the National Assembly, as well as military chiefs, ‎is another factor that bloats the cost of governance in the country.

These large convoys could be done away with if the social distancing requirement of the COVID -19 prevention guidelines is adopted as the tradition in the post-COVID -19 era.

 

 

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