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Budget: When NASS Bows To Pressure, Open Its Books

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BY KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL

The National Assembly last week eventually fulfilled its promise of releasing its budget to the public, KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL examines the development and its implications.

Since the return of democracy in 1999, the budget of the National Assembly has remained a mystery. While the national parliament appropriates money for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government and makes it public, no one was privy to their expenditure. For many years, the National Assembly annual budget was fixed at N150 billion until recently when the civil society groups and other Nigerians became apprehensive and started advocating for their budget to be published.
Also, a few years back, the N150 billion was slashed to N120 billion and with the coming in of the President Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressives Congress (APC), the 2016 budget was subsequently cut down to N115 billion. However, in all of these, details of these budgets stayed shrouded in secrecy. The only time Nigerians were privileged to have a glimpse of the National Assembly in all these years was either when they wanted to purchase furniture or vehicles. In these instances, the amount and number of vehicles were made public. But the current NEWS of the National Assembly led by Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara had at the outset promised to break grounds in the spirit of transparency and in line with the Buhari’s anti-corruption stance by making public the parliament’s budget. The House of Representatives particularly made anti-corruption fight one of its key priorities as enshrined in her Legislative Agenda. And Speaker Dogara and indeed Saraki at every fora, kept promising until last Thursday when the masquerade was eventually unmasked.
Today, Nigerians have an insight into how much the National Assembly consumes and how it spends its own share of the national cake. Although, the budget as released Thursday with the passage of the 2017 appropriation bill has some disturbing elements, even as it is a plus to the image and rating of the 8th National Assembly. No doubt, Nigerians were becoming impatient giving the fact that the promise was made almost two years ago, but with the revelation of the budget, Nigerians are better informed to assess their lawmakers both in performance, attitude and sense of national interest.
Again, it is worthy of note that 8th National Assembly for the first time organized a public hearing on the appropriation bill. This was unprecedented in the history of the national parliament as members of the civil society group, the academic, and other stakeholders were involved in scrutinizing the budget. Whether the National Assembly budget too was looked into by the stakeholders is however a different issue. But the fact remains that the budget was opened for the public to critique and make inputs. Nevertheless, the National Assembly did not stick to the N115 billion as contained in the 2016 appropriation but jacked up its budget by N10 billion, making it N125 billion in 2017.
Explaining why the National Assembly increased its budget to N125 billion, the chairman of the House committee on Appropriation, Hon. Mustapha Bala Dawaki, said the committee worked with other committees in the House to arrive at the new figure for the budget. Also, in his own submission, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan said the increase was to take care of the capital projects in the National Assembly as it was building the National Institute for Legislative Studies, NILS, meant for capacity building of legislators and non-legislators alike adding that it ensured that the increase was also derived from the two-dollar difference in the oil bench mark.
Ahmed however said he did not think that the allocation was something big as far as National Assembly was concerned.
“You need to have a National Assembly that is really poised, wired and competent to produce good laws. Imagine a National Assembly where you have so many experts, many retired people from the industry, security services, even Presidents, for example, coming to the National Assembly. So, we should have a National Assembly that is properly and fully kitted and with adequate capacity,” he said.
On the increment of the general budget from N7.3 trillion to N7.441 trillion, the Senate Leader, explained that the National Assembly captured new projects, including a second runway for the Abuja Airport, in the 2017 appropriation bill it passed.
Lawan said that the projects were covered from the difference in the N42.5 oil bench mark proposed by the Executive and the N44.5 passed by National Assembly.
According to him, “We have been able to capture for example the second Abuja Airport runway which we all need in this country; we have suffered from having only one. We have also been able to capture in the National Assembly from that fund the completion of the Baro inland port. We have also been able to also include the Abeokuta Airport. There are so many other things including the Warri– Aladja rail line and so on and so forth.
“These are newly introduced capital projects from the proceeds, the difference between the N44.5 (passed by NASS) and the N42.5 bench mark that we received from the Executive. So, we have done fantastically well”.
The legislator said that what the National Assembly passed was is still within the good bounds of what the executive presented as there were not many alterations in the allocations adding that the National Assembly tried to tinker in few cases but ensured that it did not disfigure the budget.
“There won’t be, in my opinion and judgment, any issue whether the NASS has tinkered with the budget because we haven’t done much tinkering with it. We have been able to agree mostly with what the executive has presented. But I want to assure you that this is one budget that the NASS has worked so hard to ensure that every part of the country gets something just as proposed by the executive’’ he added.
A cursory look at some sections of the budget however raises some questions. It is curious to note that two chambers of the National Assembly are to collectively spend N777 million on the purchase of photocopying machines, other office equipment and N20 million on computerized identity cards in 2017. Identity cards are issued to staff and other ancillary workers annually just as office equipment such as photocopiers are purchased every year for offices of lawmakers and the bureaucracy. The Senate is allocated N424 million, while the House will spend N353 million on photocopiers.
Similarly, both chambers will spend N55.623 million on souvenirs; N61.180 million on welfare; N47.585 million for the building of a parliamentary museum and N807 million on fueling of generating plants for the White House, New building and Annex II. A total of N1.622, 763 billion is to be spent on insurance of vehicles.
The ongoing constitution amendment is expected to gulp N640.584 million. Both chambers have been allocated N320.292 million each. Similarly, “budget coordination activities” will cost N197, 665,920 million.
For the statutory committees of the National Assembly, the public accounts committees (PAC) of both chambers will spend N56, 783 million on transport and travels. While Senate PAC will spend N25, 339 million, the House PAC will spend N31, 444 million. The committees will also jointly spend N20, 546 million on “printing of non-security documents.” On refreshment and meals, the Senate PAC will spend N14, 417 million, while the House PAC will spend N16, 748 million, bringing the total to N31, 165 million.

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