By HENRY UMORU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
When Ministers began the defence of their budgets, last week, errors in the document made the Senate to express worries over what has now been described as padding by the Executive arm arising from high overhead and personnel costs, just as this development led to the lawmakers asking the Ministers and heads of parastatals to go back and rejig the budget document and return for re-presentation.
It was a case of lack of coordination between ministries and the Office of Budget and National Planning against the backdrop of some ministers’ claim that what they presented was different from what the Office of Budget and National Planning approved which Bed to the confusion that characterized the budget defence.
As the defence progressed, almost N10 billion was discovered to have been illegally inserted into education budget.
The Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Senator Aliyu Wamakko, uncovered N9,982,258,479 hidden in the budget of the parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Education.
The committee discovered that allocation to the ministry’s per annum increased at geometric progression by almost N10 billion while the personnel cost for the ministry reduced.
Consequently, the committee Chairman ruled that the ministry officials should go back and come up with realistic overhead costs, saying its discovery was that the huge sum was deliberately hidden under the parastatals’ personnel cost.
As seen, the ministry’s parastatals’ personnel cost rose from N88.1 billion in 2015 to N98.1 billion in 2016 estimate proposals while the personnel budget of universities reduced by as much as N16.245 billion, declining from N227.2 billion in 2015 to N211.0 billion in 2016.
Similarly, colleges of education budget decreased from N40.2 billion in 2015 to N37.6 billion, while polytechnics’ personnel cost, which previously stood at N61.44 billion in 2015, was trimmed to N58.23 billion just as unity colleges’ budget had been cut from N288.7billion to N7.588 billion. The ministry reduced its budget by only N244.9 million from N3.768 billion in 2015 to N3.523 billion in 2016. UNESCO was the worst hit with the drastic reduction of its budget from N288.3 billion in 2015 to N7.588 billion in 2016.
Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwuka,who appeared before the Senate Committee on Secondary School Education for the budget defence, accompanied by his ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Folasade Yemi-Esan, gave account of the education budget performance in 2015. Anwuka said N483.183 billion budget was earmarked for education in 2015, with only N13.279 billion released. He added that only 50 per cent of N23.5 billion, amounting to N11.9 billion, was released for capital education.
However, after his submission, a member of the committee and Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, queried the rationale behind the increase in votes to parastatals by about N10 billion while the budget of universities reduced by as much N16 billion.
Adeyeye wondered why parastatals, which were meant to support the institutions, should have their personnel budget increased by such a huge volume. He, therefore, demanded for an explanation.
Meanwhile, senators were shocked when the Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, disowned the 2016 Budget document, raising the alarm that it was not acceptable to him because the original document had been distorted and strange figures smuggled in.
The Health Minister, who appeared before the Senator Lanre Tejuosho-led Committee on Health to defend the allocations to his ministry, told the committee members that they should discard the votes.
Adewole, who noted that the provisions of the budget before the National Assembly were in contrast to the priorities of the health sector as contained in the original budget it prepared, stressed that some of the votes earmarked for the ministry for some activities had been re-distributed while important fields in the sector had been excluded.
He pleaded with the senators to wait for new estimates that would be re-submitted, adding that the new estimates would reflect the programmes of the health sector in 2016.
In the course of the budget defence, it was discovered that only N29 billion was voted for the Ministry of Agriculture in an era of diversification of the economy.
Other scandalous allocations in the 2016 Appropriation Bill include N3.87billion allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic while the country’s 16 federal government-owned teaching hospitals individually got a fraction of the allocation.
The Presidency also proposed to spend N322,421,971 to link a cable to the drivers’ restroom at the Presidential Villa. Another N213,873,953 was proposed for linking of a cable from Guest House No 9 generator house to the gate.
The draft document allocated N618,604,265 for the installation of electrical lighting and fittings at the Villa, which means spending N1.6 million daily installing lighting and fittings and another N371,733,964 for the installation of electrical distribution boards and other cables.
In the draft budget, N436,054,626 was allocated for meals and refreshment, canteen/kitchen equipment, foodstuff and catering materials for the President and the Vice President. While N20,260,300 was proposed for sporting and games equipment for the Presidential Air Fleet, another N39,075,000 was proposed for the purchase of recreational facilities at the State House. Meanwhile, the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation proposed to spend another N193,513,097 for recreational facilities.
In the draft document, the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing proposed to spend N140,000,000 for the construction of a single solar borehole, and N161,500,000 for the construction of a motorised borehole, just as the Ministry of Interior budgeted N576,500,000 for the construction/provision of electricity, N595,606,148 for repair/ rehabilitation, and N6.2 billion for research and development and the Nigerian Prisons Service to spend N500,000,000 for capacity building.
Following the confusion on the budget, the National Assembly said that the passage of the Appropriation Bill, earlier fixed for end of this month, was no longer feasible.