– Babafemi Ojudu, vice chairman, Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service
Looking at the 2014 budget proposal, it is more than 75 per cent recurrent and less than 25 per cent capital. What does it say about this country and our budgeting process?
I think it says more than we are even aware of. In the last one week, what I have been doing is to put side by side the budget of the last three years and what I discovered is very shocking to me. It does appear that those in charge of our budget see it as a routine exercise, as an annual ritual. Nobody gives a thought as to what is contained in the budget. They just copy the budget of the previous year and it is passed as another budget. How could you do that to a nation? What money are you budgeting for security when we have the police, civil defence and all manner of security personnel that are already captured in the budget? Yet every department and agency still carries a budget head for security. It is all duplication and wastage. I have just done a study using the budget of this year. You have a budget for computer software in every ministry, department and agency. All of them are asking for ten million each, and in some cases 13 million naira. What manner of software is that? Can’t you centralise this by buying for one department and others benefit from it? So in total, you have a budget of almost N7 billion for computer software alone, not computer hardware. And this is just one item out of many.
As a senator who is in a committee that performs oversight on public service, where does this money in the budget go?
It is a question that we all should be asking very seriously. The National Assembly should not be a rubber stamp legislature. If they come with these kinds of things, we should ask questions. We should start by saying if you don’t defend so and so item in the budget, we would strike them out of the budget. What we need to do is to make them account for all of the money released in the budget. Why is it that it is always recurrent that is implemented to the last kobo? Because it is the one that is so easy to steal. The capital vote that energises the economy is not released. You have only 35 or 40 per cent at most. Honestly, if we are going to save Nigeria, the responsibility is in the hands of legislators.
During debates on the budget at the Senate, many senators criticised the finance minister for presenting such a budget. In your opinion, would you say the minister was probably overwhelmed by the system?
You are being charitable by saying she is overwhelmed. I want to say that she is highly insincere. If she were a head of department, would she make that kind of budget? Year in and year out we just copy budgets without giving attention to priorities; what are the needs of this nation? How do we provide employment, housing, infrastructure and so on for our people? But we only put items that encourage corruption. When you say you’re voting N580 million to the office of the secretary to the federal government for software, what manner of software is that? Just one office. If the office of the SGF is acquiring the software, then that should be enough for the entire system. So if you’re Harvard trained with World Bank experience and you allow this kind of thing to happen under your watch, then something must be wrong.
What do you propose as solutions to these problems?
In the immediate, we must throw overboard all the wastage contained in the budget of this year. The ones we would approve must also ensure that those monies are spent on what they were approved for. Failure to do so should attract the sanction. A situation where all of us are buying staplers and pins with the resources of the nation does not augur well for the development of this country. Go and pick the budget of last year and look at all the heads.
The National Assembly performs oversight on these government agencies and one would expect that even if the executive does not submit budget performance, the legislators would already have the facts and act on it.
Of course I agree with you. If we do our duties seriously, we would not be taken for granted. I was in a ministry for an oversight function and in the budget, the ministry has a vote for the publication of a quarterly journal on the activities of the ministry. I then asked for copies of the journal published for the year and they started fidgeting. Then they said they had not published in the last one year and I said ok, if you have not published in the last one year, give me copies of those of the previous years. Nobody could give me any of the journals. So what did you do with the money? And all of these things find their ways into the budget every year and we’re not doing anything about it.