Budget War: Beyond the Percentages

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The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi. Contact olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com.

Although hardly ever ready on schedule, it was no less alarming when, as of late March, the 2008 Appropriation Bill had yet to be signed into law. The reason for the delay this time arose from a disagreement between the president and the National Assembly over the powers of the legislature in relation to the budgeting process. There was therefore understandable anxiety within the polity, especially as it emerged that President Yar’Adua was somewhat reluctant to sign the budget over what he saw as the extreme meddlesomeness of the lawmakers.
The main contention was that a review of the 2008 Appropriation Act as passed by the National Assembly revealed that the legislators had virtually rewritten the budget not only by jacking up their own figures but also by introducing several clauses in contravention of the principle of separation of powers. In summary, the legislators unilaterally initiated projects for which they provided money without any input from the executive, which ordinarily should design, cost, execute and supervise such projects. To the president, the legislators’ actions made a mockery of the entire budgetary process and were clearly antithetical to the principle of transparency and accountability.
…the meeting over, the president asked the AGF to outline the issues for which he would seek judicial interpretation at the Supreme Court, which seemed to be the logical step since all the dialogue sessions held with the Assembly leadership had failed to yield any positive result. To that end, the Justice Ministry came up with the following issues for determination by the Supreme Court: Whether the National Assembly, in the exercise of its constitutional power to approve the yearly budget estimates submitted to it by the executive, can
• unilaterally increase the revenue benchmark beyond what was provided in the budget estimates presented to it by the president;
• unilaterally write into the budget heads of expenditure and appropriate money on those heads of expenditure that were not provided for by the budget estimates submitted by the president;
• unilaterally insert into the budget projects not included by the executive and proceed to appropriate money beyond the estimates submitted by the president;
• under the presidential system of government, whittle down the powers of the executive president by compelling officers of the executive branch to report directly to them on matters such as provided under the appropriation bill.
Before the suit could, however, be filed at the Supreme Court, there was a further appeal to dialogue, after the finance minister’s counsel that the president should seek another session with the Assembly leadership. Dr Samsudeen Usman, who had frequent interactions with the lawmakers, knew they would perceive the court option as a declaration of war and would fight back…
The foregoing long text, taken from my book, “Power, Politics & Death: A front row account of Nigeria Under the late President Yar’Adua”, underscores the current challenge with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate now at daggers-drawn with the executive over the implementation of the 2012 Appropriation law. In what has become a game of percentages, the House claims 34 percent has been implemented, the Senate gave its own figure as 21.6 percent while the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, insists that there has been 56 percent  implementation. Yet the real subtext in the drama is the fact that this fight is not about the welfare of Nigerians but rather about vested interests on which neither of the parties involved can claim the moral high-ground.
I want to raise some pertinent questions and provide quick answers. The first is: Do National Assembly members distort budgets? The answer is an unqualified YES. In fact, I will go further to say they bastardise budgets. Let’s take the case of 2012 and the Health Ministry. Eradication of Polio has become a challenge for Nigeria and on this we are now almost an international embarrassment. “The risk of an explosive return of polio in Nigeria and West Africa is ever present and raises the chilling spectre of many deaths and huge financial outlay to regain control,” said a WHO official recently. Yet while the executive proposed a vote of N2 billion in the 2012 appropriation bill to fight the scourge, the National Assembly considered polio eradication in Nigeria unimportant by removing the entire sum! Another example: With flooding and the rise of water borne diseases like cholera across the nation, the executive had voted what can be considered a meagre N578 million for such epidemic diseases. What did the National Assembly do? It cut the vote to N78 million! Yet this same lawmakers would vote the entire sum of money in one year’s budget for a project that has a cycle of three, four or even five years to complete. This leaves ample room not only for corruption and waste but it defeats the idea of budgeting which is for planning purposes.
Now, the second pertinent question: Does the executive implement budget selectively and do ministers also distort budget? The answer also is an unqualified Yes. To compound the problem, the requisite capacity for budget implementation is not there. Again, let’s go to the 2012 budget and I will cite the examples of two ministries: Agriculture and Health. For agriculture this year, N48 billion was approved by the National Assembly. To date, from my investigation, N13.8 billion has been released while only 9.4 billion out of the available sum has been spent. Now this is where the game of percentages gets interesting. The agric ministry claims 68 percent implementation based on money released thus far, but looking at the total amount of work done, against total amount appropriated for the year, the budget implementation is actually an unimpressive 29 percent! In the Health Ministry, the entire capital vote for the year is N14.54 billion, out of which N5.72 billion has so far been released. The ministry claims 35 percent implementation, given the money spent and what is still left in their kitty. When this is however compared with the appropriated sum what we have is a meager 14 percent budget implementation.
We will come back to this issue next week in order to x-ray how ministers and heads of agencies (mis)use the “Envelope system” to make nonsense of the budget process. I will however conclude the present intervention with two instructive accusations, or if you like, counter-accusations. On Monday, Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said:  “If you go through the records, you will find that there are a lot of constituency projects that are yet to be completed because those people who were representatives of the people before are no longer there, they have left. However, the new members are insisting that new projects must be executed first.”
But on Tuesday, House Minority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, pointed fingers in the opposite direction: “N6 billion was allocated for water projects. N1.3 Billion of the N6 billion was for the Finance Minister’s village, another N1.5 billion for the president’s place and N3 billion for the rest of the country. Yet she is not elected but you say those elected should not bring development through the budget to their areas.”
I hope readers are getting some clues about what our national budget is all about and why the landscape is strewn with abandoned projects and ruins.
•To be concluded next week.
Fashola and the Broken Windows Theory
Shortly before I left the country in June 2010, I attended a group meeting where a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor generally acknowledged to be doing very well in his state, was in attendance. In the course of a general discussion about Nigeria, the governor said: “We have a lot of problems in this country because the most important issue is usually where the president comes from and not what he can deliver so my proposition would sound very crazy. But if I were to nominate anyone to be president of Nigeria today, I will go straight for (Babatunde) Fashola.” Apparently having noticed the surprise on the faces of many people in the room, he continued: “In terms of providing infrastructure, Fashola has not done as much as I have done in my state. For me, what stands Fashola out is the breath of his ideas. There is no time that I have engaged him in discussions about leadership, governance and how to transform this country that I didn’t take away something.”
I could easily situate what the Governor was talking about and in a way I sensed that my late boss (President Yar’Adua) also did because, despite party differences and the difficult (and most often acrimonious) relationship between Lagos state and the federal government, he nonetheless felt at home with the man he affectionately called “Governor Lagos”.
On Tuesday, I was in Lagos to join the THISDAY team led by Managing Director, Eniola Bello, for a long session with Fashola and his own team, including Environment Commissioner, Mr Tunji Bello. Because of the human dimension to the Makoko/Lagoon front demolition fiasco, we felt obliged to engage the governor on the issue. We met a man who was not only prepared but one who has mastered his turf: Fashola knows Lagos like the back of his hands and that must account for  his modest accomplishments.
While Fashola is an issue I intend to take on one day in a serious disquisition about leadership, it is interesting that he seems fascinated by the “Broken Windows Theory”, which he said underpins his attitude to governance. Based on a thesis by James Wilson and George Kelling which originally centred on crime prevention, the broken windows theory has over the years become a veritable tool for social scientists. According to the authors in the piece published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982, “at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.”
The moral of the proposition is that it is much more productive and far cheaper to fix a “broken window” (metaphor for any problem) before it escalates. As one commentator puts it, “we’ve seen clean, functional systems deteriorate pretty quickly once windows start breaking…neglect accelerates the rot faster than any other factor.”
Several times in the course of our engagement with him, Fashola would allude to the conventional wisdom in fixing broken windows before they eventually lead to the collapse of the house. The sad thing really is that we have too many broken windows in our country today and only few people care about fixing them. It is therefore no surprise that the entire edifice (of our nation) is crumbling, littered as it is by broke windows and managed by a leadership elite that has little temperament for attending to any broken things.


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