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Published On: Fri, Apr 11th, 2014

Transformation of a few pockets: Analyzing the OHCSF budget

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Okonjo-Iweala_Ngozi (1)Our young voice this week is Saude Amina Atoyebi, a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with a Masters’ Degree in ‘Advertising and Marketing’, from Coventry University, England. She works with the Good Governance Group as a Research Assistant and is a writer on www.nigeriaintel.com, a Nigerian news website dedicated to providing high quality investigative journalism. Her passion for a better Nigeria encouraged her activism on twitter which provides a platform for her to openly express her views. She can be followed on @minibaby.

Being a Nigerian in 2014 is so much hard work. It is a constant struggle to get by in a nation where our security is not guaranteed; erratic power is blamed on low water levels, healthcare is a major disaster, education is almost a lost cause and youths lose their lives in the process of trying to gain employment. With the multitude of chaos one has to deal with by simply being Nigerian, we need to know whether the 2014 appropriation bill is significantly different from its predecessors and geared towards alleviating the suffering of the people.

The economy has been dealt with bloated recurrent expenses which have floated around the same range between 2011 to date (74.4%, 71.5%, 67.5% and 74%). Sadly, this year’s budget is not any different in the sense that it is another budget tipped in favor of recurrent expenditures over the capital vote.

The implication of a huge recurrent budget over capital expenditure means that more money is spent on paying salaries and maintaining offices and staff (petrol, electricity charges, travel allowances e.t.c) as opposed to investment for development (roads, hospitals, education e.t.c). This is a major problem if the country is to take developmental strides that will be beneficial to the majority of the people instead of serving a few and widening the gap between the rich and poor.

In this week’s column, we will be assessing the 2014 appropriation bill for the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) to see how our national resources are being spent and to whose benefit? Is the allocation geared towards any development or is it an avenue for funds to be looted? Are there budget subheads that could be done without in favor of channeling funds towards more useful purposes? These are some of the few questions we shall attempt to answer.

The OHCSF has 7 subheads under it; Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, West African Management Development Institutes Network, Public Service Institute of Nigeria, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Federal Training Centres (Enugu, Ilorin, Kaduna, Lagos, Maiduguri and Calabar) and the Headquarters of the OHCSF itself. The total budget allocated for the OHCSF in 2014 is about N11.6bn (0.25% of the total budget and N1.7bn less than last year’s budget of N13.22bn). Of the N11.6bn, about N4.1bn (35.8%) is capital expenditure while recurrent expenditure is almost double the capital vote at N7.4bn (64.2%). The recurrent expenditure is further broken into N5.2bn for personnel costs and N2.2bn for overhead costs.

This budget is filled with ambiguous budget heads that reek of money making nuances and indiscriminate contract openings for the opportuned few. For instance, under the OHCSF headquarters budget head, there is a provision of; N60m for office stationeries, N80m for maintenance of office building/residential quarters, N112m for ‘other’ maintenance services, N73m for security vote and N24m for maintenance of office/IT equipments.

It is difficult to ascertain where the funds allotted for ‘other’ maintenance and security vote will end up since no further information is being given about them. These unaccounted funds would most likely end up ‘maintaining’ the flamboyant lifestyles of a few public servants which ordinarily is not catered for by their legal entitlements.

Why is so much money being pumped into stationeries in a time when most ‘forward thinking’ organizations are going paperless and communication/businesses are transacted digitally? This then makes us wonder what kinds of training is offered at the OHCSF six (6) Federal Training Centres, if that of computer literacy has not been embraced.

While there is a provision of N24m for maintenance of office/IT equipment, of all the 6 training institutes, only one (in Lagos State) has a partially functioning website which in itself still has blank pages. The remaining five (5) have no representation whatsoever in cyber space. It is therefore preposterous to be talking about IT equipment when the whole system is still quite far from being neither IT literate nor driven.

On the flip side, there are some reasonable allocations towards E-learning equipment, electronic data management systems, establishment of research centre for policy formulation, upgrade of library subscription of E-Journals and books, core training e.t.c found in the budget. If these budget subheads are to be followed through for purposes other than personal interest, then there would be some improvement in manpower quality in the public sector.

While further perusing the budget for the OHCSF headquarters, there is an allocation of N41m for refreshment and meals for the year which if broken down weekly, translates to slightly over N700,000 per week. It is therefore no surprise why many directors look well-fed (thanks to our budgetary provisions). These types of monies are being flushed down the drain by a greedy few when there are about N112 million poor Nigerians who cannot afford a N200 meal per day.

The allocation of N18m to sporting activities is an irony in itself for people who are so unfit they can barely move. Whose responsibility is it to cater for the recreational activities of a few people? Anyone who craves entertainment or recreation of whatever form should take care of it from their filthy lucre and not dispossess the average citizen of their rightful entitlement.

This joke of a budget which we have, has items such as firefighting equipment (N10m), industrial equipment – N12m(whatever that is), anniversaries/celebrations (N30m) , and an enormous N240m for rehabilitation/repairs of office buildings.

As is the usual practice in government settings, the so-called firefighting equipment are likely one off purchases which are not replaced as often as they should if we were to follow international safety guidelines. It is still a fairly regular occurrence to have fire outbreaks in government structures. The fire extinguishers are just another avenue to cool some pockets.

The allocation for rehabilitation and repairs recur annually. This year, the OHCSF headquarters allocated N240m for this purpose, a 22% reduction from last year’s N310m. Although there is a reduction, what form of investment is this? What value does it add to the nation?

Are we so destructive that structures, offices and equipment need to be fixed annually? Is making provision for this subhead annually not encouraging our tradition of waste and negligence? This type of waste is unfair and unacceptable.

The Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board is allocated N675.2m for the construction/ provision of housing. In a country where the President has acknowledged the World Bank’s 17 million housing deficit figures, the allocation towards this problem is about half the amount spent on the frivolous overhead expenses (N1.22bn) in the OHCSF headquarters. There is little that tops this level of misplaced priorities.

For an important public document as the budget, it is disconcerting to see that projects that are titled as “new” have actually been copied and pasted from last year’s budget with different figures allocated to them. Examples of such similar occurrences within the 2014, 2013 figures are ; upgrading of library subscription of E-journal s and Books (N40m, N20m), provision and servicing of firefighting equipment (N10m, N30m), upgrading of intercom linkage (N30m, N20m), rehabilitation of civil service club (N60m, N1m)e.t.c.

A lot more can be done with the budget in terms of removing budget heads that are useless and channeling them for the benefit of the populace. There needs to be a higher level of accountability from our leaders and the budget needs to be presented in a way that the ordinary Nigerian can comprehend rather than being filled with jargons that only cause confusion. If this kind of wastage continues, then we will not be moving forward anytime soon.

The entire budget for the OHCSF “supposedly” highlights ‘transformation’ which is the current administration’s mantra. Sadly it is the transformation of the few who have connections to the powers because for the average person, they will have to wait a little longer to experience this transformation.

 

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