At a Public Hearing on the Akwa Ibom State N598 billion 2020 Appropriation Bill organised by the state House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance, the budget estimate by Governor Udom Emmanuel came under intense fire from the organised labour and civil society groups.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state fired the first salvo by flaying the Udom administration budgetary allocations to the Education and the Health sectors. Udom presented a budget estimate of N 597.8 billion for the 2020 fiscal year to the state Legislature.
Going by Governor Udom’s proposal, recurrent expenditure will get N111.225 billion of the sum, while capital expenditure gets N369.642 billion. Consolidated Revenue fund charges will gulp N116.933 billion. The total projected recurrent revenue for 2020 is estimated at N381.556 billion as against the approved provision of N374.758 billion in 2019.
But the TUC State Chairman, Dominic Abang, has strongly condemned the budget, declaring that the union considered allocations to these sectors inadequate having been given a paltry N4.00 billion naira each and recommended a reallocation of resources from other sector like Housing (N8.15 billion CAPEX); Special Duties (N43.43 billion); Accountant General (N25.66 billion); Finance (N15 billion) amongst other to investment in human capital.
The union lamented that capital allocation to the social sector has been reduced from N47.13 billion or 10.6% in 2019 to N26.67 billion, representing 7.2% of the total capital expenditure while allocations to Administration Sector has been jacked up from 22.6% in 2019 to 27.6%.
Abang observed that the reduction for social sector has little to do with the reduced budget size but a reflection of government prior for 2020; and underlined that this represents a contradiction to the budget objective of poverty alleviation.
Continuing, he said, ‘’the 2020 budget is termed the Budget of Industrialisation for Poverty Alleviation, phase two, therefore government must give priority attention to social sector’’,
and advocated for an independent Measurement and Evaluation process that involves actors in the private sector while the house should ensure a robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism for the budget execution after its passage.
The union lamented that analysis and inputs by stakeholders to the budget is constrained because figures involved are high level numbers- the lump sum allocations across various MDAs but stakeholders do not have full details of the budget.
Abang advised that the full budget proposal, being a public document, be made available to the public as this will allow for more scrutiny of the budget by the various stakeholders.
The state Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was perplexed at the tendency of the government to appropriate humongous sums every year for capital projects, especially road construction, when the actual performance of the previous year would indicate that lesser amount should be allocated for them given the short day season during which work can be done.
NLC expressed concerns over the disproportionate allocation to the economic sector (63.3$) at the expense of the other sectors, especially the social sector (64.3%) of which education will take a miserable 3.0% or N11.45 billion.
Represented by Iboro Ibara, Vice Chairperson/Acting Secretary, NLC stated that the logic infra accumulation as the sole precursor for economic renaissance is false because human capital accumulation is excluded, and accordingly changed the House to review the allocation to the Social Sector and Education Sector to 15% and 8% respectively.
Labour decried the unavailability of Budget Implementation Report for 2019 to the public and pointed out that it becomes difficult to meaningfully project into the expectations of 2020 without having the benefit of the result sheet for 2019, and also condemned the phenomenon of approved but unexecuted capital projects as well as unspent recurrent votes which has become a recurrent one in the state budget and this must be reversed.
Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), speaking through Franklyn Isong (State Chairman) and Christopher Ekpo, (Secretary) noted that Agricultural Loans Board, which is allocated N49,320,000,00 under Recurrent Expenditure is obscure. ‘’CLO is not aware of the existence of the Agricultural Loans Board and its office location in Akwa Ibom’’; and wondered how many workers constitute its staff strength.
The rights group spotted identical allocations under Recurrent Expenditure such as a Comprehensive Health Centre, is allocated N6,000,000.00, while a General Hospital, is allocated N7,200,000.00 and declared that these identical allocations create the impression that the nagging issue of ghost workers still exists in this sector.
The Bureau of Intergovernmental and National Assembly Relation, which is allocated N245million under Recurrent Expenditure, CLO declared is obscure and queried where this body has its office and how many persons it has on its staff strength and maintained that the allocation of N245million to this body under Recurrent Expenditure is, in CLO’s view, not justifiable.
According to CLO, the Office of the Chief of Staff, is allocated N138million under Recurrent Expenditure but that there has not been a Chief of Staff for some time now and wonders what the huge allocation for Recurrent Expenditure is meant for, seeks explanation.
CLO notes that while the Recurrent Expenditure for the House of Assembly is N5.1billion, the Recurrent Expenditure for the Judiciary is N3.9billion, according to Item Nos. 21 and 25, respectively, of Schedule 1. Considering that the Judiciary has far reaching presence in the 31 local government areas of the state, CLO wonders at the lopsidedness of the allocations.
On sectoral allocatons to capital projects, CLO is of the view that allocations for Capital Expenditure are in favour of non-critical sectors, and notes that the Office of the Accountant General and the Government House are allocated huge capital votes far in excess of the allocations for capital votes to the critical sectors, such as; Health, Education, Agriculture, and Water.
” For instance, with N4.00billion to Ministry of Health, N160million to State Agency for the Control of AIDS and N590million to the Hospital Management Board, the Health Sector is allocated less than N5.00billion in capital votes which is less than 10% of the total Budget.
‘’Again, with N4.00billion to Ministry of Education, N200million for the Secondary Education Board, and N500million to State Universal Education Board, Education sector is allocated less than N5.00billion of the capital votes, which is less than 10% of the total budget and far less than the 26% UNESCO minimum benchmark. For a state that is yearning for accelerated development, this lopsidedness in the allocation of capital votes is unhealthy’’, CLO said.
CLO is advocating that the Appropriation Bill should be positively re-jigged before passage, adding, ‘’allocations to nebulous and non-critical bodies, such as Bureau for Intergovernmental and National Assembly Relation and the Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution, should be revisited and slashed.
‘’The allocations for Capital Expenditure to the critical sectors, such as Health, Education, Agriculture, and Water should be enhanced. The huge allocations of capital votes to the Ministry of Finance, Government House, Office of the Accountant General, Office of the Chief of Staff, and Office of the Secretary to the State Government, among others, should be revisited and slashed.
‘’The Capital Expenditure for the Judiciary and the State Fire Service should be enhanced. Following the massive embrace of the free education policy of the State Government, more capital votes should be channeled to Education for the building and equipping of primary, secondary and technical schools.’’
In the mean time, Policy Alert, a non-governmental organisation, is calling on the state Legislature to step up its oversight of budget implementation in the state.
In a memorandum to the House Committee, Policy Alert’s Executive Director , Tijah Bolton-Akpan, said: ‘’We urge the Seventh Assembly to pass this budget quickly to enable us return our long-distorted budget cycle to a January to December calendar.
‘’Policy Alert is looking forward to a more effectively implemented budget in 2020 because n the past, poor capital budget implementation and leakages have been enabled by weak oversight on the part of institutions saddled with the responsibility of oversight on the budget process. These include the various Committees of the House, especially its Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
‘’Despite several budget infractions by government Ministries, Departments and Agencies as highlighted by successive reports of the Auditor General of the state, the PAC has failed to bring such erring institutions to book, a situation that allows corrupt and inefficient practices to fester.’’
They are also pressing the legislators to increase the allocation to the Office of the Auditor General, pointing out that the continued underfunding and denial of autonomy to that office appears contrived to weaken its oversight function over budget implementation in the state.
According to the group, ‘’the Auditor General’s Office was only able to access 10 percent of the paltry N500 million that was voted for it in the 2018 budget and even though we don’t have the details for 2019, it is doubtful that 2019 will be any different. This situation adversely affects the quality of audit reports and its timeliness, undermines transparency and accountability, and allows corruption to thrive.’’