From Benjamin Babine, Abuja
The Budget Office of the Federation has called for the reduction of the number of federal cabinet ministers from around 40 to 24, stressing that, among other things, it will help reduce the high cost of governance in Nigeria.
The Director General of the Budget Office, Mr Ben Akabueze, made this known at a stakeholders dialogue on corruption and cost of government in Nigeria organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Akabueze also called for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to restructure the federation to 6 regions rather than 36 states, explaining that, at the moment, the President is mandated to appoint at least one minister from all the states, which he said is one of the major drivers for the high cost of governance.
‘It is imperative to minimise corruption and reduce governance cost in Nigeria to engender development. Critical steps to take include: Prioritising the completion of ongoing projects to enable us reap the benefits of such projects and save variation costs; allowing only properly conceptualized, designed, costed and critically appraised projects,’ the DG said.
‘Exclusion of projects that relate to matters that are the responsibilities of state and local governments; and exclusion of recurrent expenditure items from the capital budget.
‘In addition, the constitutional provision on appointment of ministers needs to be amended to reduce the number of cabinet ministers the President is obliged to appoint to not more than 24 to be appointed from the six geopolitical zones. Reduce the number of federal ministries from 27 to not more than 20. The USA with fifty (50) States and Washington DC has fifteen (15) Departments/Ministries.’
Also speaking at the conference, the Chairman of the ICPC, Prof Bolaji Owasonoye, said the timing of the policy dialogue on Corruption and Cost of Governance could not have come at a better time, stressing that the issue must be addressed for the Nigerian economy to improve.
‘This is because there is near consensus across all political divides of the Nigerian polity that the cost of governance is high and also no longer sustainable given the continuing shortfalls in the accruing revenue to the nation. In the midst of serious security challenges and increasing borrowing, it is common sense to Re-evaluate again and again, the cost of governance,’ he said.
‘One recurring decimal in discussion within the arms and levels of government, the populace and the media is that the high cost of governance is fueled by partially by corruption and secondly by incompetence and waste in the governance structure and process of the nation. Corruption and its effects on the cost of governance therefore needs a special focus.’
The ICPC boss went on to speak on project duplication saying thousands of projects are repeated annually in the budget without diligent scrutiny. He explained that some are duplicated as annual zonal intervention projects otherwise called constituency projects of the legislature while also featuring as projects of the executive.
‘Funding is released for both insertions without any mechanism for monitoring and evaluation and reconciliation of funding. Recently the RCCG blew the whistle on a road project it had implemented as CSR but which suddenly was “inadvertently” awarded as executive project. The incident rightly became the subject of an inquiry by the legislature. ICPC’s response to this challenge is not only to track selected projects but to annually digitize executive and constituency projects and upload same on our website for citizen verification through our toll-free line.’
The call follows investigations by BudgIT, a civic-tech non-profit organisation, which revealed that the 2021 budget of the Federal Government contains 316 duplicated projects valued at N39.5 billion. BudgIT said its investigations revealed that 115 of the duplicated projects were from the Federal Ministry of Health, describing the development as disturbing.
‘Our investigations into the 2021 budget revealed at least 316 duplicated capital projects worth N39.5bn, with 115 of those duplicate projects occurring in the Ministry of Health,’ the advocacy organisation said.
‘This is very disturbing especially considering the health infrastructure deficit and the raging COVID-19 pandemic affecting Nigeria.’