• Monday, April 22, 2024
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BudgIT seek judicial interpretation of Senate powers to adjust National budget

BudgIT Nigeria soaring higher as it opens more doors for transparency through personalized data availability

On the heels of the ongoing controversy about 2024 budget, which was alleged to have been padded by N3trillion, BudgIT, a civic-tech non-profit organisation has called for a judicial pronouncement on the power of the National Assembly especially as it regards the authority to insert new capital projects in the annual budget.

The organisation, in a recent report said that the Judiciary, though ordinanly not part of the budgetary process, can make a significant impact, specifically in Nigeria’s case.

It noted that there has been uncertainty about whether or not the National Assembly — by constitutional provisions of powers of appropriation, oversight, and review — has powers to insert new projects (line items) into the budget proposal without recourse to the Executive.

“While we wait for the judicial interpretation of the appropriation powers granted to the National Assembly, it is expedient that until the Supreme Court makes the pronouncement, the interest of the National Assembly is captured during the budget preparation process.

“This will, to a large extent, limit the distortions caused by the National Assembly’s arbitrary insertions and limit the instances of projects assigned to MDAs with neither the mandate nor capacity to implement.

“One hundred billion was previously set aside for the National Assembly constituency projects and it might be right for the Executive and the Legislature to agree on a percentage of capital projects that can be inserted as new projects in the budget, especially at the constituency or district level.”

According to the report, a total of 7,447 projects culminating in ₦2.24tn were inserted in the 2024 budget by the National Assembly.

A breakdown of the report showed that 55 of the projects, with a total value of ₦580.7 billion, are greater than N5 billion per project. It also showed that 281 projects — each worth at least ₦1 billion — with a combined worth of N491bn, and 3,706 projects within the range of N100–500m, worth 759bn were inserted into the budget.

The organisation stated that it is important that the Nigerian President, who is the custodian of fiscal policy has a tight grip on the National Budget.

It stressed on the need for the president to sanction an Executive Order to bar agencies from accepting projects outside their mandate, adding that most agencies do not have the requisite capacity to deliver projects efficiently, thereby contributing to waste and public resource abuse.

“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) need to prosecute cases of abuse, corruption, and financial recklessness associated with the budget process.

“The ICPC had identified instances of corruption in 2021 and 2022, however, there are yet to be Prosecutions for such cases, which are supposed to serve as deterrents for future occurrences.

“Using subnational units that have achieved some measure of inclusion with ‘Citizen’s Budget Hearings as example, BudgIT is of the view that such participation is necessary.

The organisation said that citizens and civil society deserve to be carried along in the budget approval stage, as their question on the Appropriation Bill may prevent the insertions from happening in the first place.

“This inclusion must be tunely and designed in a way that citizens and civil society’s inputs are taken into consideration and considered in the National Assembly’s decision making,” it said.

Other details of the report showed that apart from the N100 billion constituency projects, most of the insertions in the budget are for federal constituencies and senatorial districts.

For example, 1,777 projects worth N218.6bn are to be directly delivered in federal constituencies while 1,308 projects with a value of ₦176 billion are directly in senatorial districts. Other categories of projects include 1,150 streetlights worth N212bn, 427 boreholes worth N82.5bn, 170 ICT projects with a value of N30.95bn, and N7.61bn for empowerment of traditional rulers”, the report read.

A breakdown futher shows that 1,308 projects are to be implemented specifically in senatorial districts, and lawmakers also added up projects to their constituencies, at least N500 million each.

The report further revealed that 3% percent of the projects worth N632bn were inserted in the Ministry of Agriculture’s budget, raising its capital budget from N332bn to N963 billion.

It would be recalled that in a previous analysis done by BudgIT on the 2021 and 2022 budget of the federal government, it was revealed that the National Assembly inserted 1,125 and 1,522 projects respectively in the 2021 and 2022 budgets of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (including quite several MDAs under it).

In other ministries such as Science and Technology, 757 new projects worth N207bn were added and 263 projects with a value of N242bn were inserted by the National Assembly.