The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State Council has raised concerns over budgetary allocations in the state 2020 Appropriation Bill to the Education and Health sectors of the state.
TUC state chairman, Comrade Dominic Abang made the condemnation in a presentation during a Public Hearing on the 2020 Appropriation Bill organized by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance.
Abang declared that the union considered allocations to those sectors inadequate, having been given N4 billion naira each.
He recommended a reallocation of resources from other sectors like Housing (N8.15 billion CAPEX); Special Duties (N43.43 billion); Accountant General (N25.66 billion); Finance (N15 billion) amongst other to investment in human capital.
The union lamented that capital allocation to the social sector has been reduced from N47.13 billion or 10.6% in 2019 to N26.67 billion, representing 7.2% of the total capital expenditure while allocations to Administration Sector has been jacked up from 22.6% in 2019 to 27.6%.
Abang observed that the reduction for social sector has little to do with the reduced budget size but a reflection of government priority for 2020, and underlined that this represents a contradiction to the budget objective of poverty alleviation.
The 2020 budget, Abang pointed out, is termed the Budget of Industrialisation for Poverty Alleviation, phase two, therefore government must give priority attention to social sector.
The union lamented that analysis and inputs by stakeholders to the budget is constrained because figures involved are high level numbers- the lump sum allocations across various MDAs, but stakeholders do not have full details of the Budget.
Abang advised that the full budget proposal, being a public document, be made available to the public as this will allow for more scrutiny of the budget by the various stakeholders.
The Akwa Ibom State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in its submission said the union was perplexed at the tendency of the government to appropriate humongous sums every year for capital projects, especially road construction, when the actual performance of the previous year would indicate that lesser amount should be allocated for them given the short dry season during which work can be done.
NLC expressed concerns over the disproportionate allocation to the economic sector (63.3$) at the expense of the other sectors, especially the social sector (64.3%) of which education will take a miserable 3.0% or N11.45 billion.
Represented by Comrade Iboro Ibara, Vice Chairperson/Acting Secretary, NLC charged the house to review the allocation to the Social Sector and Education Sector to 15% and 8% respectively.
NLC decried the unavailability of Budget Implementation Report for 2019 to the public and pointed out that it becomes difficult to meaningfully project into the expectations of 2020 without having the benefit of the result sheet for 2019.
The union also condemned the phenomenon of approved but unexecuted capital projects as well as unspent recurrent votes.
Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, in its presentation made by Otuekong Franklyn Isong (State Chairman) and Comrade Christopher Ekpo, (Secretary) noted that “Agricultural Loans Board,” which is allocated N49,320,000,00 under Recurrent Expenditure is obscure as CLO is not aware of the existence of the “Agricultural Loans Board” and its office location in Akwa Ibom State, and wondered how many workers constitute its staff strength.
The organisation spotted identical allocations under Recurrent Expenditure such as “Comprehensive Health Centre,” allocated N6,000,000.00, while a “General Hospital,” is allocated N7,200,000.00 and declared that these identical allocations create the impression that the nagging issue of ghost workers still exists in this sector.
“Bureau of Intergovernmental and National Assembly Relation,” is allocated N245m under Recurrent Expenditure, a situation CLO declared obscure and queried where the body has its office and how many persons it has on its staff strength and maintained that the allocation of N245m to this body under Recurrent Expenditure is in CLO’s view, not justifiable.
CLO continued that “Office of the Chief of Staff,” is allocated N138m under Recurrent Expenditure but that there has not been a Chief of Staff for some time now and wondered what the huge allocation for Recurrent Expenditure is meant for.
CLO noted that while the Recurrent Expenditure for the “House of Assembly” is N5.1b, the Recurrent Expenditure for the “Judiciary” is N3.9b, according to Item Nos. 21 and 25, respectively, of Schedule 1.
Considering that the “Judiciary” has far reaching presence in the 31 local government areas of the State, CLO wondered the lopsidedness of the allocations.
On sectoral allocatons to capital projects, CLO is of the view that allocations for Capital Expenditure are in favour of non-critical sectors, and noted that the “Office of the Accountant General” and the “Government House” are allocated huge capital votes far in excess of the allocations for capital votes to the critical sectors, such as; “Health,” “Education,” “Agriculture” and “Water”.
“For instance, with N4b to “Ministry of Health”, N160m to “State Agency for the Control of AIDS” and N590m to the “Hospital Management Board,” the Health Sector is allocated less than N5b in capital votes which is less than 10% of the total Budget. Again, with N4b to “Ministry of Education,” N200m for the “Secondary Education Board,” and N500m to “State Universal Education Board,” Education sector is allocated less than N5b of the capital votes, which is less than 10% of the total Budget and far less than the 26% UNESCO minimum benchmark. For a State that is yearning for accelerated development, this lopsidedness in the allocation of capital votes is unhealthy,” CLO underlined.
CLO advocated that the Appropriation Bill should be positively rejigged before passage,
saying, “allocations to nebulous and non-critical bodies, such as “Bureau for Intergovernmental and National Assembly Relation” and the “Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution,” should be revisited and slashed.
“The allocations for Capital Expenditure to the critical sectors, such as Health, Education, Agriculture, and Water should be enhanced.
“The huge allocations of capital votes to the Ministry of Finance, Government House, Office of the Accountant General, Office of the Chief of Staff, and Office of the Secretary to the State Government, among others, should be revisited and slashed.
“The Capital Expenditure for the Judiciary and the State Fire Service should be enhanced. Following the massive embrace of the free education policy of the State Government, more capital votes should be channeled to Education for the building and equipping of primary, secondary and technical schools,” it said.
In its contribution, Policy Alert, a non-governmental organization, called on the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to step up its oversight of budget implementation in the state.
Presenting its Memorandum to the Committee, Executive Director of the organization, Tijah Bolton-Akpan, said: “We urge the Seventh Assembly to pass this budget quickly to enable us return our long-distorted budget cycle to a January to December calendar.”
Bolton-Akpan stated that Policy Alert look forward to a more effectively implemented budget in 2020 because n the past, poor capital budget implementation and leakages had been enabled by weak oversight on the part of institutions saddled with the responsibility of oversight on the budget process.
These it said include the various Committees of the House of Assembly, especially its Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
“Despite several budget infractions by government Ministries, Departments and Agencies as highlighted by successive reports of the Auditor General of Akwa Ibom State, the PAC has failed to bring such erring institutions to book, a situation that allows corrupt and inefficient practices to fester”, it added.
The memorandum also asked the Assembly to increase the allocation to the Office of the state Auditor General, and pointed out that the continued underfunding and denial of autonomy to that office appears contrived to weaken its oversight function over budget implementation in the state.
“The State Auditor General’s Office was only able to access 10 percent of the paltry 500 million that was voted for it in the 2018 budget and even though we don’t have the details for 2019, it is doubtful that 2019 will be any different. This situation adversely affects the quality of audit reports and its timeliness, undermines transparency and accountability, and allows corruption to thrive,” Policy Alert observed.