By Yinka Odumakin
A PROFESSOR told the story the other day of how University of Ghana years back came up with the brilliant idea of building high-rise hostels for its students to accommodate most of its populace.Contractors were engaged and in record time the beautiful pieces of architecture were ready. Commissioning was done with fanfare and students moved in to their new homes.
It was shortly after they settled in that our greatest affliction in Africa, lack of planning, hit them on the faces. It became a problem that people on the sixth floor would have to descend six floors of stairs down and ascend again just to buy one Cedis of sugar. No one thought of an elevator when the building was being designed. It was a galore of complaints thereafter. To deal with the error,the authority introduced roped bags that were tied on the floors so a student can write what he/she wants and lower the bag.The sellers take the list and money, then return the bag up with the goods ordered.
This worked for some time until boys began to hijack the bags on the middle floors while those who made the order would wait in vain on the topmost floors.
That developmental tragedy remains our major affliction in this part of the world, especially our dear country Nigeria where our spending patterns follow no plan.
The tragedy of it all is that we humorously have a Ministry of planning that sometimes stands on its own and at other times is merged with the budget ministry.
But to all intents and purposes we are only interested in budgeting with no emphasis on planning whereas developed societies concentrate on planning with the budget only running after the plan.
All the scandals that are usually associated with our budgeting process are therefore a natural flow from our approach of wanting to spend money without any development plan.The easier part in such trajectory is for individuals in government to skew the process to satisfy their personal greed and avarice since there is no serious macro vision around which resources are being deployed .
This is why our budget year after year is more or less a photocopy of the same voluminous pages with figures merely adjusted for same overhead. We produce a budget that rivals Advanced Learners Dictionary every year without any clear vision of what we are doing . In all the years that Lee Kwuan Yew spent to take Singapore from third world to the first, that country’s budget never exceeded sixteen pages .
And when you go through it, you would see clearly what had been achieved with previous year’s budget within the plan being executed with the current budget moving the national train from where it stopped in the previous year to new targets in the current year.
It is the absence of such paradigm that would make us approach the National Assembly with a request for $30b loan,in excess of our national reserves, without a sheet to detail specific projects and repayment plans for this loan. And when our usually toothless bulldog (Senate) strangely found the testicular fortitude to ask the right questions, the executive has been going around like a beheaded chicken for weeks now unable to come up with anything as I write this.
What it means is that if there had not been any query from the Senate we could have gone to borrow this jumbo loan and create another festive season for the masters of padding in all arms to start cooking books all over again while the country is further suffused in eternal debt trap. A country with properly planning should within hours be able to list projects it wants to spend money on to the minutest details and draw repayment plans for such loans.
In a few weeks from now ,we would be having another hollow ritual of budget presentation with our plan-less template. The budget as it has become practice over the years would not address any major development goal because we have none in place. If our policy makers understand the meaning of budget,they should be able to know that it should be just an event in a developmental chain and not just an activity on its own.
Budget and bulga
Originally, a budget was a ‘pouch’. English got the word from Old French bougette, which was a diminutive form of bouge ‘leather bag’ (from which we get bulge). This came from Latin bulga, which may have been of Gaulish origin (medieval Irish bolg ‘bag’ has been compared). The word’s financial connotations arose in the 18th century, the original notion being that the government minister concerned with treasury affairs opened his budget, or wallet, to reveal what fiscal measures he had in mind. This is why they still carry the symbolic briefcase from where the President picks out the budget till date.
The first reference to the expression occurs in a pamphlet called The budget opened 1733 directed against Sir Robert Walpole: ‘And how is this to be done?’.Why by an alteration only of the present method of collecting the public revenues.
The earliest recorded use of the word non-satirically in this sense seems to be from 1764. Budget is a relatively new invention. Its origins, however, lies in centuries of monarchs mismanaging the country’s finances.
The office of the Treasurer began life within that of the Exchequer, which was in charge of managing the Royal revenues and for issuing and collecting cash. Having been established at the time of the Norman invasion in the 11th century, the Exchequer did not receive its first major reform until the reign of Elizabeth 1. Following reform in the 1580s, a deficit was quickly turned into a surplus.
But not much was altered in the habit of monarchs continuing to squander the country’s tax revenues and rack up debts. Charles II landed the country’s finances in such a mess which led the Dutch to seize the Royal Charles, the navy’s flagship, in 1667.
This humilation prompted another spate of reform and the establishment of the principle that even if Parliament has approved of expenditure it needs the approval of the Treasury. It is a rule that still stands today as the appropriation by the National Assembly requires the assent of the President even in our clime.
Budget Day historically has been held during Spring in Britain because the collection of the Land Tax took place in April, and much of the country’s wealth derived from agriculture.This shows how the budget is closely tied to the yield of the land and societal goals.
If our leaders key into the origin of budget and clearly understand the essence of it, perhaps we would see more serious job being done of it rather than the hollow ritual we presently have. And our planning ministry would become a beehive of serious activities as it is from there issues will flow around which our budget runs.
The “ban” on Cross River “Green Police”
NEWS came last week that Cross River State Commissioner of Police, Jimoh Obi-Ozeh, has declared as illegal and criminal the 1500-member Green Police inaugurated on May 26 this year and recently retooled with 10 branded fast cars by Governor Ben Ayade.
Governor Ayade while launching the outfit had stated its mandate “You are the Green eyes of Africa and have been conferred with powers to enforce the state’s sanitation laws and policies. You can arrest and issue warrants while ensuring that all citizens and residents comply with the state’s sanitation and environmental policies.”
Obi-Ozeh however told journalists in Calabar that “the Green Police will be clamped down on if they are seen operating in the state. It is a breach of the 1999 constitution (as amended.)
He went on: “According to Section 214, there shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigerian Police Force and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established”
“I am here to defend the constitution. I need not to wait for my Inspector General to carry out my duty if anyone is breaching the criminal aspect of the constitution. What I can do is to take action and brief my IG and that is the action I have taken.”
This CP is definitely an interesting man.He does not want an elected Government in Cross River to enforce its sanitation law because he and his IG coined and registered the word “Police”.Is he so ignorant not to know there is a difference between the “Nigeria Police Force” and “Green Police”? Is he aware of Hishbah (Sharia Police) in Kano whose uniform is exactly like that of the NPF? They have been arresting bottles of beer and destroying same because Sharia (not the Nigerian Constitution) forbids drinking of alcohol.
Vanguard Newspaper on March 25 ,2016 reported how they arrested 31 commercial sex workers in one day.
“Our men were able to arrest these girls at Sabon Gari area in Kano at about 3 p.m. on Monday.
“We screened them and immediately released those who are first-time offenders on bail while those who are habitual offenders were referred to the legal department for further legal action,” said Mallam Sani Tanko,the PRO of the Hisbah Board.
The Cross River State Government must challenge this unjust diktat in court if the fellow means his threat.It is a battle for federalism against the continued assault by unitary forces.It is also about removing this noxious notion that a section of the country can do it but the other must not.