Nation Newspaper Attacks 2016 Budget

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Buhari

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THE Nation Newspaper on January 3 lambasted President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2016 Budget, saying that some of the extravagances in the presidency’s budget are stunningly indefensible. This expression was made in the newspaper was published as an editorial comment titled; “Curious figures: Some of the extravagances in the presidency’s budget are stunningly indefensible.”

The Editorial Comment is reproduced below: Curiously enough, President Muhammadu Buhari’s first budget estimates after rising to power on a promise of change have familiar ingredients associated with the old discredited order. Details of the 2016 budget proposal reflect astonishing similarities with the immediate past, prompting questions about the meaning of change.

To start with, the interest in acquiring a fleet of new high-end luxury cars for the Presidency bespeaks flawed prioritisation. A vote of N3.6b for BMW saloon cars for principal officers is certainly on the high side, considering that the cars are not essential for good governance. Furthermore, the number of the cars is unspecified, leaving room for possible corruption-related manipulation.

Also, the mention of BMW saloon vehicles and their cost brings to mind the matter of a former Aviation Minister in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Stella Oduah, who was involved in a questionable procurement of two bullet-proof BMW cars at $800,000 each during her tenure. The Buhari government cannot afford such a stain at this time when it is trying to get the public to appreciate its claim that it met a vastly depleted treasury.

The point is that it is a contradiction to say the country is in a mess economically, and yet go on to purchase expensive vehicles whose purpose could as well be served by less costly ones. While we appreciate the need for befitting vehicles for the Presidency, the reality is that BMW cars are not exactly realistic, given an economy struggling with the basics.

Still on cars and associated items. The cost of tyres is put at N189.1m to cover the bulletproof and regular Mercedes Benz cars. In addition, the expenditure on tyres is to cover other brands of vehicles, including Toyota cars, trucks, Land Cruiser and Prado SUVs, Hilux pick-up vans, Peugeot 607 and 406 cars, ambulances and others broadly described as “utility and operational vehicles”.

Other expenditures on the Presidency’s vehicles include N39.8m for the purchase of an unspecified number of 200 amps, 100 amps and 60 amps Mercedes Benz batteries for bulletproof vehicles. Also, N30m is to be expended on the purchase of tool boxes, car jacks, and diagnostic machines for the Presidency’s bulletproof cars. The purchase of C-Caution triangles, fire-extinguishers and cables is to cost N27m.

It is unclear how the Presidency arrived at these figures, but they are unsettling reminders of the Jonathan presidential era when public expenditures seemed to be padded, and were actually inflated to enrich private pockets. We hope that is not the case in this new political dispensation.

It would appear that public criticism of the high frequency of President Buhari’s international travels since he took office has not been effective enough to cause a review. As against the 2015 N24.4b allocation, which was used by Buhari and his predecessor, the Presidency voted N39b for local and international travels and transportation in the 2016 budget. This suggests more foreign travels by Buhari when he is expected to fly less and stay on the ground to address the country’s failure to realise its potential.

Equally odd is the N362m allocation for Wildlife Conservation in 2016, in place of the N24. 6m voted for the same category last year, including the purchase of exotic animals. Ironically, the difference in the figures makes Jonathan’s government look saintly, quite apart from the dubious category which this particular allocation is meant to serve.

What is more, the allocation for acquisition of presidential canteen materials and kitchen equipment increased from N83.1m in 2015 to N89m in 2016. There is also a marginal increase in the N11m voted for supply of foodstuff and catering services in the Vice President’s office in 2015 to N16.6m.

Other puzzling figures include: general renovation of the Guest House (N387m); complete furnishing of the Guest House (N45m); purchase of computers (N27.5m) and construction and provision of recreational facilities (N764m). It may be asked: What are the recreational facilities missing at the Presidency?

Here and there in the budget are suspect figures that signal not only the possibility of inflation, but also the possibility of wastefulness. While there is no indication of the number or condition of items procured by the Presidency in 2015, N114.4m is to be expended on the upgrade of internet infrastructure in the State House and N22.5m is to be spent on purchasing internet servers. What is described as “Active Devices for State House Network” is to cost N100m, and N35m is to be expended on the purchase of security appliances and licences, including computer anti-virus software.

The Buhari administration must not give the false impression that another government did not exist before it. Does it mean that the Jonathan administration, with all its warts, left nothing useful, and everything has to be renewed to make the new government work as expected?

As far as government is considered a continuum, it is expected that an administration which is out to correct mismanagement of public funds would not conduct itself in a way that suggests it may not be substantially different after all.

If the budget proposal is faithfully passed by the National Assembly, the Buhari administration must, in its own interest, ensure strict accountability.

—  Jan 5, 2016 @ 16:20 GMT

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