Budget padding, which marred the 2016 Appropriation Bill, appears to be rearing its head again in the 2017 budget estimates as the Senate Committee on Housing and Urban Development has alleged the presence of a strange vote in one of the estimates.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), denied knowledge of N2bn allocated to Regional Housing Scheme in the 2017 budget proposal of the ministry.
The minister, who appeared before the committee to defend the proposal, referred the lawmakers to the Ministry of Finance for information on the controversial item.
The item was numbered FMOW99934089.
“I know as much of it as you do,” Fashola told members of the committee.
The minister pointed out that he had no explanation on the N2bn allocation as it was discovered in the proposal after it was worked upon by the Ministry of Finance.
The Chairman of the committee, Senator Barnabas Gemade, requested that the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, be invited to explain the insertion of the allocation.
The following conversation ensued between Fashola and Gemade:
Gemade: Finally, what is this provision of N2bn for regional housing scheme? What is regional housing scheme? Where is it taking place? What is happening? Have you seen it on Page 18?
Fashola: It is not our project. It came in from, I think, the Budget (Office). It is a Ministry of Finance initiative; saying that they want to do what they called ‘family homes’. It is not from us.
Gemade: Yes, but they have put it here; otherwise, we will not be in the position to accept it.
Fashola: I know as much of it as you do sir.
Gemade: But you are here to defend this budget in totality.
Fashola: That is why I have come. I am explaining to you now, sir, on how it comes into our budget. That is not what we submitted. We didn’t submit that proposal.
Gemade: So, will the ministry be kind enough to tell the people who put this in this budget to come forward and let us know?
Gemade: Let us know what is regional housing programme because government cannot be operated in secrecy.
Fashola: I think the committee, if you permit me to bring this suggestion…
Gemade: …should invite them?
Fashola: Yes, sir.
Gemade: But you know the people; we don’t know them.
Fashola: No, sir. We just said finance sir.
Gemade: Finance ministry?
Fashola: Yes sir.
Gemade: We will write to the minister.
Fashola: Please do sir.
Gemade: (Pointing to the committee’s secretariat) Write to the minister: We have seen this line, which costs N2bn. Let them send information here for us to know what it is all about.
Accusations and counter-accusations between the executive and the legislature had characterised the passage of the 2016 budget.
The crisis had pitted President Muhammadu Buhari against the National Assembly over alleged padding of the budget.
While the executive claimed that the lawmakers reduced amounts allocated to some major projects and inserted some not originally included in the budget by the executive, the legislature had alleged that the officials in the executive smuggled frivolous projects into the budget.
Meanwhile, economic experts have condemned the national budget for 2017, describing it as one that will not make much impact on the lives of Nigerians.
These were made known at the public hearing by the National Assembly on the 2017 Appropriation Bill in Abuja, on Monday, which had various professional, civil society and economic groups, as well as Federal Government officials in attendance.
The public hearing was based on the 2017 Appropriation Bill, which has a total estimates of N7.298tn presented to the legislature by Buhari.
They also criticised the country’s budgeting process as one which failed to drive development.
Also a coalition of Civil Society Groups, under the auspices of the Citizens Wealth Platform, said Nigeria could save N151.5bn from the N7.3tn 2017 budget.
The group said the budget contained “frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful expenditure” it had identified in the 2017 Appropriation Bill.
The coalition, led by the Centre for Social Justice, in a document it presented to the National Assembly and participants at the hearing, criticised items in the budget and the amount allocated to them.
In the State House budget, the CWP called for the removal of the ‘Welfare Packages’ item for which N209.5m was allocated.
The group said, “This should be covered by the personnel cost. Why make a separate provision for welfare? Save the sum.”
On ‘Maintenance Services – General’ for the State House at the cost of N467m, the coalition recalled that the sum of N282,962,558 was budget for the same purpose in 2016 “and the make-up of this maintenance is still the same with that of the previous years.”
The CSO also called for the retention of the N92.6m allocated to ‘Foodstuffs and Catering Materials Supplies’ for the State House in 2016 and urged the legislature not to approve the N123m proposed for the same purpose in 2017, thereby saving the country about N30.5m.
The group also described the N556,592,736m proposed for ‘Honorarium and Sitting Allowance’ at the State House as being “on the high side.”
It called for a 50 per cent reduction of the allocation.