November 29, 2021

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Concerns as NASS, Judiciary, INEC budgets shrouded in secrecy

There are concerns over the 2022 budget proposals of the National Assembly, Judiciary and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which are shrouded in secrecy. 

 The 2022 budget proposals of the three organisations amounted to N394billion, with the National Assembly having N134bn, Judiciary N120bn and INEC N140bn. 

President Muhammadu Buhari had, penultimate Thursday, presented the 2022 budget proposal to the joint session of the parliament. The following day, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning released the breakdown of the budget to the public.  

But the details of the budgetary provisions of the National Assembly, Judiciary and the INEC were missing, raising concerns over the continued secrecy around the expenditures of the organisations.

This is despite the promise of federal lawmakers to run an open National Assembly policy as stated in the legislative agenda they rolled out shortly after their inauguration in June 2019. 

Civic groups said shrouding the breakdown of the organisations’ budget proposals in secrecy amounted to shying away from accountability.

National Assembly

The National Assembly’s budget of N134bn covers the salaries and allowances of the 109 senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives, their aides, the National Assembly Commission and the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS).

Since 2010, the detail of their budget had been shrouded in secrecy, appearing as one-line item.

During the Eighth Senate, the then Senate President Bukola Saraki released the Assembly’s 2018 budget to the public following public outcry.

Despite keeping details of their expenditures from public scrutiny, the federal lawmakers’ budget has been on the increase in the last 18 years. 

Their budgets were N23.347bn in 2003; N32.229bn in 2004; N55.422bn in 2005; N39.810bn in 2006; N66.488bn in 2007; N104.825bn in 2008 and N96.052bn in 2009.

In 2010, the lawmakers got N154.2bn. For four years – 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 – N150bn was budgeted for the parliament.

However, in 2015, it was slashed to N120bn and N115bn in 2016. In 2017, the legislators got N125bn, N139.5bn in 2018 and N151.6bn in 2019.

They got N125bn in 2020, and this year, N134bn was appropriated for the legislature.

The Ninth National Assembly released a partial detail of its 2021 budget, appearing as 11-line item after its passage in December 2020. 

The breakdown of the allocations to the National Assembly and its organs for 2021 showed that the National Assembly management was allocated N15.967bn. 

Senate got N33.267 billion, while the House of Representatives was allocated N51.994 bn.

The National Assembly Service Commission got N5.734bn and legislative aides were allocated N9.602 bn.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Senate got N118.970 million, while its counterpart at the House of Representatives was allocated N142.764 m.

The sum of N9.134 bn will be spent by the National Assembly for general service, while the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) was allocated N7.373 bn.

The sum of N389.354m was voted for service-wide votes, while N275.243m was allocated to the office of retired clerks and permanent secretaries.

Why Nigerians need to know legislature’s expenditures  – CSOs

Civil society organisations have slammed the legislature over the continued secrecy of its expenditures despite public outcry. 

They said the continued refusal to make its budget breakdown available to the public questioned the parliament’s claim of being a transparent arm of government. 

The executive director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said since the National Assembly is funded by taxpayers’ money, the Nigerian public have the right to know how its allocation would be spent. 

He said that for the parliament to do otherwise would be antithetical to democratic and legislative practice. 

“The public needs to know, so that at the end of the day we can assess the National Assembly to determine whether the output from there is commensurate with the inputs we make because it is our money. 

“To do otherwise is to shy away from accountability. And when you take accountability out of a democratic process, what you have is no longer democracy. It is creeping authoritarianism,” Itodo said. 

Also, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and coordinator of the Transparency International (TI) in Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the 2022 budget should be more detailed and thorough, given the fiscal deficit and the country’s debt crisis.

“We expected the budget to be more detailed and self-explanatory. It should be really meant to deliver good governance,” Rafsanjani said.

It’s not our job to release budget breakdown – Senate 

When contacted, the Senate said the budget of the legislature was controlled by the bureaucracy of the National Assembly, therefore, it is not their responsibility to make the breakdown available for public scrutiny. 

The Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru said that the clerk of the National Assembly was in the best position to give the details.

Analysts differ on Judiciary’s budget

Analysts have expressed divergent views on the N120bn 2022 budget of the Judiciary through statutory transfer.

Following the increase in statutory transfers to the National Judicial Council (NJC) from N110bn in 2021 to N120bn for 2022, a senior lawyer said the budget of the Judiciary ought not to be a subject of publicity, while another argued that the breakdown of the details was necessary for accountability.

Reacting, Professor Paul Ananaba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said there was no problem in not revealing a breakdown of the expenditure profile of the Judiciary through the NJC as a way of adhering to transparency due to the nature of the council.

He said persons or non-governmental organisations seeking details may obtain the same using the freedom of information request.

“I do not think it is so much of a problem (not disclosing the details). It is a problem to disclose so much to the public about the Judiciary as people may begin to overreact. Let us continue to believe that the managers of the Judiciary are patriotic and are doing the right thing.

“It would be a different thing if there are internal complaints. If the Judiciary continues to run smoothly, then we go by the assumption that all is well,” he said.

Also, a forensic psychologist, Dr Law Mefor, said such an envelope budgeting system is really strange and would not help to monitor expenditure in terms of capital and recurrent profile.

“But N120bn lump sum is given to the NJC without any breakdown to know what is going to what. This is no budgeting at all but allocation of money. It is even more worrisome that the National Assembly allows this kind of budgeting to go on, which flies in the face of its statutory responsibility of oversight,” he said.

In his reaction, Abdulhamid Mohammed, a lawyer, said the provision of section 80 of the Nigerian constitution of 1999, as amended, provides that no money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund except authorised by an appropriation act.

He added that to control management of public funds, the section further provides that money can only be spent in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly. 

No details as INEC plans to spend N140bn 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is planning to spend N140bn in 2022 as contained in next year’s budget proposal.

President Buhari had, on October 7, presented a N16.39trillion budget estimate for the 2022 fiscal year to the joint session of the National Assembly.

However, the details of the N140bn proposed for the electoral body was unavailable in the breakdown of the budget proposal.

INEC’s budget is a ‘one-line’ item like that of the National Assembly and some other organisations.

According to the breakdown of the budget, INEC’s detailed expenditures were not given as the amount was just listed under the line items of expenditure, personnel cost, salaries and wages, total personnel, total overhead, total recurrent, total capital and total retained independent revenue.

Just as there was no mention of the INEC in the 2020 budget, that of 2021 followed the same trajectory.

While there are a series of activities that may be undertaken by the INEC next year, preparation for the 2023 general elections would be a priority, apart from some off-cycle elections and by-elections as may arise.

When contacted on the matter, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, told Daily Trust on Sunday that only his principal could comment on the issue of the commission’s budget.

By: Abdullateef  Salau, John Chuks & Abbas Jimoh