By Akpandem James, Special Adviser (Media) to the Hon. Minister
The Ministry of Budget and National Planning says there are no suspicious items in the 2018 Budget as speculated by a few commentators.
The commentators have made observations and allegations that tend to suggest that some line items and projects in the budget are suspicious, but the Ministry explained that the items in the budget were well conceived and provided for by the respective MDAs.
It pointed to some of the items like N10bn for settlement of liabilities to Contractors; N22.6 billion for Research and Development; N308.42bn for procurement of riot control equipment for police formations; N2.21bn for Social Media Mining Suite by the Department of State Security Services and N338m for computer software acquisition in the Federal Ministry of Finance, which were termed as suspicious by BudgIT, a civil society organization (CSO) active in the budget space, and said they are genuine provisions which have been explained by the relevant MDAs.
For instance, it is common knowledge that the Federal Government owes many contractors for certified works dating back as far as 10 years. Thus, provisions are made in the annual budgets to offset some of these contractor liabilities. A good portion of these debts is domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, and so the Ministry made a provision of N10bn in the 2018 Budget Proposal for settlement of liabilities.
In the Government Integrated Finance & Management Information System (GIFMIS), Research and Development is a programme description that encapsulates various projects. In this case, a check of the budget of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment will show that this includes the N19.3bn for the Export Expansion Grant (EEG). For several years the EEG scheme was suspended on account of its dubious outcomes. However in its bid to incentivise non-oil exports, the FGN reformed and reinstated the scheme with effect from 2017. The budgetary provision for this scheme will therefore be recurrent, year after year. Indeed, as the non-oil sector picks up, the amount of provision is expected to increase.
On the issue of N308 million for procurement of riot control equipment for police formations and the Force Head Quarters, there are 37 State Police Commands (FCT inclusive) and the Force Headquarters. This amount is less than N10m per state police HQ. Nigeria is yet to attain the UN ratio requirement of one police officer to 400 citizens of a country, thus this sort of provision is to help the already stretched force to keep up with the expectation of keeping law & order during protests or matches which are the basic tenets of the freedoms allowed in a democracy.
It is acknowledged the world over that matters of national security are treated with some degree of confidentiality. The project code-name, ‘Cleaning and fumigation services’ was adopted by the office of the National Security Adviser based on the available drop-down menu on the Budget Preparation Subsystem of the GIFMIS. However, the office of the National Security Adviser during the budget bilateral discussion provided information on the specific items of expenditure covered by the code name.
On the N2.21bn for Social Media Mining suite by the Department of State Security Services (DSS), the agency plans to implement some security protocols to curtail spread of information capable of threatening national security. This is by no means to hinder freedom of speech or expression as these will not be tampered with in as much as it is within the ambit of the law.
The N338m in the budget for computer software acquisition in the Federal Ministry of Finance is basically to fund some ICT solutions/initiatives for improving financial management within the Federal Ministry of Finance.
For the N4.9bn for annual Maintenance of mechanical/electrical equipment in the Villa, it must be noted that the Villa is quite an expansive complex comprising several offices, residences and other relevant support facilities. This provision is made to ensure that the equipment is maintained in top form at all times, and for several of these there are standard maintenance contracts.
The Ministry therefore explained that there is nothing suspicious about any of the provisions in the 2018 budget.
It is however not unusual for some items in the Budget to require further clarifications or explanations. That is why the Ministry made provision for a Citizens’ Portal on the website of the Budget Office for interaction and feedback purposes. Commentators are therefore advised to make use of the facility for clarifications on budget matters.