The first consideration is the law as it is and which guides budgeting and public finance management. Section 48 (1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act states that “The Federal Government shall ensure that its fiscal and financial affairs are conducted in a transparent manner and accordingly ensure full and timely disclosure and wide publication of all transactions and decisions involving public revenues and expenditures and their implications for its finances”. The key words in this beautiful provision are “transparent”, “full and timely disclosure”, “wide publication of all transactions involving public revenues and expenditure”.
Also, in the un-appealed decision of the Federal High Court in the Centre for Social Justice v Honourable Minister of Finance (Suit No.FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013), the court granted the Freedom of Information request of the applicant for the disclosure of statutory transfers and made it clear that no agency of government had the right to spend public resources in a way and manner unknown to the citizens. This is the state of the Nigerian law on transparency of public finance management.
Like in previous budget proposals, the 2019 proposal currently before the National Assembly dedicates bulk sums totalling N492.36bn to statutory transfers. The National Assembly (N125bn), National Judicial Council (N110bn), National Human Rights Commission (N1.5bn), Universal Basic Education Commission (N110.97bn), Public Complaints Commission (N4.2bn), Independent National Electoral Commission (N45.5bn), Niger Delta Development Commission (N95.188bn). Statutory transfers constitute 5.5% of the aggregate expenditure. These allocations are made against the spirit of transparency and accountability and in disobedience of subsisting court judgements. But the impunity continues because these statutory transfer recipients and those who prepare the budget consider themselves above the laws of the land that guide other mere mortals.
Fast forward to the Service Wide Votes, a good number of its provisions have no details and some of these votes should directly impact on citizens’ lives if well-invested and spent. The Sustainable Development Goals in the SWV comes up to a total figure of N45.5bn and it has no details. The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has an un-disaggregated N2bn for the SDGs. The foregoing has been the practice since the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. If indeed this quantum of resources had been invested in the MDGs/SDGs consistently on a yearly basis, for 20 years now, why have we not seen improvements in livelihoods and standards of living instead of the current retrogression that we witness?
Getting to the Niger Delta, the NDDC has a vote of N95.188bn; the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs gets N41.60bn while the Amnesty Programme has a vote of N65bn. The total of these figures for the Niger Delta comes up to N201.789bn in the 2019 budget proposal. Of all these allocations, it is only the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs that the components of its spending are known. Others are not disaggregated. Available evidence indicates that these unknown budgets provide a fertile ground for project duplication between agencies which leads to poor value for money. Consistently, for close to 20 years, we have been intervening in the Niger Delta with this opaque and closed model. Do we honestly expect progress and development in the region?
The insecurity challenge in the North-East has also created a fertile ground for the continuation and expansion of opaque budgeting practices. In the vote of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, a bulk sum of N10bn is proposed for the North-East Development Commission while another sum of N45bn is in the Service Wide Votes. These votes have no details. Again, across the ministries, lump sums are provided for generic interventions in the North-East.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development continues its notoriety for bulk sum budgeting. In the days of the former minister, now at the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, it was a play on words- seed, seeds, seedlings, etc. Now, the ministry dedicates huge sums of money running in-between millions and billions for maize, rice, cassava, corn, groundnut, oil palm, cocoa, yam, etc. value chains. What exactly is this proposal for? There are no project locations, no specific activities, no deliverables but just the deployment of a generic word with no fixed meaning. The ministry needs to first articulate the full value chain of a particular crop and tell Nigerians at what stage it is intervening. At the planting, harvesting, processing into different industrial products, preparing for export, etc? What exactly is the value chain paying for? For instance, in the cassava crop, can the ministry step up to tell Nigerians what it has done to improve the local utilisation and value addition to produce starch, floor, pellets for animal food, ethanol, etc.? Has the ministry been able to extend the shelf life of fresh cassava roots for increased incomes and postharvest losses reduction? Where is the cassava bread initiative? Since the beginning of the value chains, the ministry should be in a position to give specifics of progress made and this should be backed by empirical evidence, not propaganda.
The challenges posed by these un-disaggregated budgets are so many. First, how do citizens monitor a budget they do not have the details? If there are no project locations, where do you begin from in capital budget monitoring? How do we measure impact and evaluate if goals and deliverables have been met? The biblical injunction that you do not light a lamp and hide it under a bushel is apposite here. It must be on a lampstand to give light to the whole house. If these agencies have nothing to hide, they must come clean and give Nigerians the details of their budgets.
In accordance with the budgeting tradition, no fewer than 20% of the budget will be approved and spent in this opaque manner. It appears that public attention has been focused on the vote of the National Assembly and these other agencies do not feature in the demand for transparent budgeting. Sufficient attention should be focused on the overall opaque budgeting culture to improve transparency and guarantee greater value for money. If the previous votes had been effectively utilised, Nigeria would have made much more progress, surpassing our current situation. The demand is clear; the executive and legislature should obey the law. The details of these votes should be provided to Nigerians.