The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project SERAP has asked President Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration to cut budget rather than selling public properties to fund the 2021 budget.
In a letter dated January 16, 2021, and signed by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the group noted that the National Assembly should be responsible for spending in line with the Constitution. It emphasized the need for legislation to protect public properties. It urged Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila to urgently review the 2021 appropriation legislation.
It noted that it would be a fundamental breach of constitutional and fiduciary duties if the government can sell public properties and enjoy almost absolute discretion to borrow to fund the 2021 budget.
It would be recalled that Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of Finance, confirmed last week that the Federal Government would trade some-government-owned properties to fund the 2021 budget, admits the borrowings.
According to SERAP, “Selling valuable public properties to fund the 2021 budget would be counter-productive, as this would be vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. It would undermine the social contract with Nigerians, leave the government worse off, and hurt the country in the long run. It is neither necessary nor in the public interest.”
“The country’s fiscal situation must be changed – and changed quickly – through some combination of cuts in spending on salaries and allowances, and a freeze on spending in certain areas of the budget such as hardship and furniture allowances, entertainment allowances, international travels, and buying of motor vehicles and utilities for members and the Presidency.”
In their letter, the group noted that: “The time is now for the leadership of the National Assembly to stand up for the Nigerian people, stop the rush to sell public properties, push for a responsible budget, and support efforts to have the government spend responsibly.”
“Other areas to propose cutting include constituency allowance, wardrobe allowance, recess allowance, and entertainment allowance.”
“SERAP urges the National Assembly to promptly work with the Presidency to fix the current damaging budgeting process and address the systemic corruption in ministries, departments, and agencies [MDAs]. Tackling corruption in MDAs, and cutting waste and salaries and allowances of high-ranking public officials would go a long in addressing the budget deficit and debt problems.”
“SERAP also urges the National Assembly to stop approving loan requests by the Federal Government if it continues to fail to demonstrate transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained.”
“The current level of borrowing is unsustainable, which means that the National Assembly under your leadership can play an important role to limit how much the government can borrow in the aggregate. The National Assembly should urgently seek assurances and written commitment from President Buhari about his government’s plan to bring the country’s debt problem under control.”
“We would consider the option of pursuing legal action to stop the Federal Government from selling public properties, and we may join the National Assembly in any such suit.”
“SERAP notes that the N13.58 trillion budget for the 2021 fiscal year signed by President Buhari on December 31, 2020, is about N505 billion higher than the budget proposed in October 2020. The government is reportedly planning to borrow N5.6 trillion from domestic and foreign resources to fund the 2021 budget.”
“The deficit and debt problems can be fixed immediately if the National Assembly can exercise its constitutional and fiduciary duties to push for cutting salaries and allowances of members and the president and vice-president, and for transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained by the government.”
“We hope that the above would help guide your actions to stop the government from selling public properties to fund the 2021 budget, propose cuts in salaries and allowances of high-ranking government officials, propose cuts in waste and corruption in MDAs, as well as ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of loans by the government. We would be happy to discuss any of these recommendations in more detail with you.”
The group also urged the Presidency to make sayings to handle the increasing level of debt and borrowing.
See widespread social media reactions to SERAP’s call.
What, in your opinion, should the government do to tackle the rising issues of the 2021 budget?