BUDGET defences are replete with comic relief. It is the time of year when legislators play god? What do they do for the rest of the year? Those who invented budget defences had in mind robust sessions, devoid of sensationalism, where executives explain how they will spend money awarded them from the public purse.
The same legislators, who put up sanctimonious airs during budget defences, are maintained at public expense to keep an eye on the executive. It is called oversight function. Billions of Naira is appropriated annually to ensure legislators travel round the country ensuring budgets are implemented the way the votes were appropriated.
Why then was the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs startled that Minister of Foreign Affairs Chief Ojo Maduekwe spent N2.7 billion on foreign trips in 2009? Where was the committee when he made the trips? Maduekwe wants more money for more trips in 2010.
Committee Chairman Senator Jubril Aminu called the trips â€œwastefulâ€. Maduekwe said they were not, reminding the committee that diplomacy costs money. He was right. Our diplomatic trips cost so much that we owe staff of our missions over three months arrears of salaries. Some of their children are out of school for unpaid fees. In other cases, utility bills are outstanding. To sustain themselves, some are in breach of protocols that forbid them from seeking paid employment.
Alhaji Jubril Maigari, another Minister in Foreign Affairs, said the Ministry ran out of money. An N8 billion shortfall in the budget due to differences in exchange rates caused the problem. Our diplomats and their dependants would starve until a supplementary budget is passed.
The comic was far from over. Maduekwe disagreed with Maigari. â€œDo you know that some ambassadors are fond of embarking on frivolous trips and paying themselves huge estacodes thereby leaving little to run the missions?,â€ Maduekwe asked the Senators. He probably expected applause for his insightful diagnosis of the problem.
Maduekwe told Senators he knew ambassadors who cornered national resources for their selfish interest. They damage Nigeriaâ€™s image by making its diplomats destitute and he did nothing about it. Are there no financial guidelines for our missions? Could this rigmarole restore the dignity of our starving diplomats? Was welfare of our diplomats really an issue in the budget defence?
The Ministerâ€™s posture confirmed that some Ministers are unhelpful to the system. They complain, blame shift, and are wasteful. Senators know!
Where does the National Assembly defend its own budget? If we cannot get the services our legislators are supposed to provide, we can at least laugh at some of them pretending they could burst a vein insisting on expenditure of public funds for only worthy causes.
The worthiest cause, naturally, centres on the interest of the legislators.