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BudgIT Urges FG To Prioritize Value-Adding Capital Projects

BudgIT Foundation, a civic-tech non-governmental organisation leading the advocacy for fiscal transparency and accountability in budget and public finance, has urged the Federal Government to allocate more funds to capital projects that directly affect the welfare of the citizens.

More importantly, the organisation stressed that it had become expedient that more funds be allocated to ongoing projects to ensure the government’s commitment to their completion. Likewise, MDAs involved in splitting their capital expenditure (CAPEX) to subvert checks and balances should be identified and made to face the law.

The civil advocacy group raised concerns over the capital projects breakdown in the draft 2021budget, describing the proposals in the Appropriation Bill as marred by opacity, duplications, fragmentations and other critical issues that create loopholes for corruption and misappropriation of limited public funds.

Commenting on other issues with capital projects in the proposed budget, Gabriel Okeowo, BudgIT’s Principal Lead, noted that the Federal Government cannot afford to keep pumping the country’s limited resources into new projects while abandoned capital projects suffer inadequate investment.

He said: “We analysed over 13,000 capital projects in the 2021 budget and observed that 55.51% of the total allocation for capital expenditure are earmarked for new projects, many of which may end up uncompleted by 2021. This is contrary to the hope Mr. President offered in his budget speech that ongoing projects will be prioritized in the 2021 Budget.

“Nigeria is currently in recession and strategic spending on capital infrastructure project completion should be a priority”, Okeowo added.

According to him, out of the 13,343 capital projects analysed by the civil advocacy organisation, a sizable number of projects were falsely categorized as capital projects even though in reality they are not.

For instance, he pointed out that meetings, allowances, anniversaries and celebrations were mis-categorised as capital projects, citing the N3.3bn proposed for “Posting and Return Entitlement of Ambassadors and Officers” in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, N74.5million allocated for “Anniversaries and Celebrations” in the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDC), N40 million for “Peculiar Allowance” in Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission, as examples of capital expenditures in the Bill.

BudgIT stated further that its analysis showed that projects between the N10million and N50million band represent 42.2% of capital projects analysed and this might be a deliberate approach to avoid elaborate procurement plans, thereby reducing broad oversight on contracting.

The CSO expatiated: “We think the current structure of capital projects is too wasteful, incoherent, and grossly inefficient. Whilst capital expenditure is higher in terms of value, there is a need to properly ensure that these projects deliver optimal value for Nigeria.

“Duplication, opacity and fragmentation of line items by government agencies could present opportunities for subverting checks and balances meant for accountability. As a case in point, two line items tagged “Nurse Tutor Training” and “Special Intervention SDG 1” were duplicated in 3 and 2 places, respectively, with different budget codes. These two line items have allocations totalling over N41 Billion earmarked for them, without specific descriptions”, it added.

Commenting on the group’s findings, BudgIT’s Director and Co-founder, Oluseun Onigbinde, said: “The fragmentation of capital projects is an urgent conversation that the Federal Government needs to address. In an era of dwindling revenues caused by low oil prices and the current slump in the global economy, it is important for the government to pay attention to a few projects of immense social and economic value.”

The government had offered hope that capital projects in the 2021 FG budget will be accompanied by precise GPS coordinates to encourage project monitoring. Not only was this not provided in the budget proposal, many capital projects also had no specific locations in the country.

It would be recalled that in June 2020, our analysis of Open Treasury Portal revealed that over N50bn of public funds were paid into personal accounts; allocating projects without defined location(s) is a loophole for this form of corruption to continue in the fiscal year 2021.

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