By Abdullateef Salau, Itodo D. Sule (Abuja) & Vincent Nwanma (Lagos)
Senators yesterday faulted the increasing recurrent expenditure of the Federal Government over the years, expressing concern that the government might end up borrowing for workers’ salaries.
This is just as the National Assembly passed for a second reading, the N20.51trn 2023 Appropriation Bill presented by President Muhammadu Buhari last Friday.
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This followed a debate on the general principles of the bill at both chambers.
The government had proposed N8.2 trillion for recurrent expenditure in 2023, constituting over 43 per cent of the budget.
In the 2018 budget, the recurrent expenditure vote was N3.5trn. It increased to N4.7trn and N4.8trn in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The recurrent expenditure rose to N5.9trn in 2021 and N6.9trn in 2022.
During the debate on the 2023 budget proposal yesterday, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno) called for a thorough investigation into the rising recurrent allocations despite hundreds of workers retiring yearly and embargo placed on employment.
Ndume said, “The Senate and by extension, the National Assembly, need to critically look into it this time around, more so with the attendant increase in the votes of debt servicing. We must thoroughly look into budgetary proposals made by the executive to prevent a situation of borrowing money for payment of workers’ salaries.”
Similarly, Senator Tolulope Odebiyi (APC, Ogun) described the recurrent expenditure as too high, emphasizing that it must be reviewed downward to get the country out of its “quagmire.”
Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun) said: “There are some items in the budget that have become permanent. We need to look thoroughly into the budget and remove unnecessary items consuming government funds yearly without adding significant value to governance.”
Senator Betty Apiafy (PDP, Rivers) stressed the need to cut the cost of governance, saying, “As a nation, we need to live within our means, block revenue leakages and review TSA.”
Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger) called for the review of the budget template as far as the overheads are concern.
Earlier in his debate, Senate Leader Abdullahi Gobir said though the recurrent expenditure was still too high. He, however, said the expenses were necessary for stabilising the government and the polity.
Senator Yakubu Oseni (APC, Kogi) urged sanctions for agencies where revenue leakages were being discovered.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan decried the huge loss of revenue due to high-scale crude oil theft and called for appropriate sanctions against the perpetrators.
Lawan charged the committees of the Senate to, in the course of the budget defence, ensure critical scrutiny of the submissions and trace any leakage or wastages contained in it.
In the House of Representatives, Honourable Leke Abejide, in his contribution to the debate on the 2023 budget proposal, said there was a need for revenue-generating agencies to block leakages and up their revenue collections to enable the government fund the budget.
House Minority Whip Mohammed Tahir Monguno, said there was a need for the government to bring more Nigerians into the “tax net” to shore up revenues to bridge the deficit gaps.
Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu, faulted the N435 to a dollar exchange rate parameter for the 2023 budget, describing it as “complete distortion of reality.”
House Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, who presided over the session, urged the committees that would work on the appropriation bill to be very thorough in scrutinising the fiscal document.
Speaking to Daily Trust yesterday, Prof. Appolos Nwaobia, Head, Department of Accounting, Babcock University, Ogun State, said high recurrent expenditure would hinder economic growth.
“If the economy does not grow, there will be stagnation. Are we not experiencing it? Look at the high level of criminality arising from unemployment and all the rest of them- hostage taking and kidnapping.”
A political economist at Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Austin Nweze, said a solution to the high cost of running the government “is to have a smart government and deploy technology.”
“The government has no business having more than 100,000 workers. It will be cheaper to pay these people off and let them go, but the process must be managed properly,” he said.