Udora Orizu in Abuja
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, to urgently review the 2021 appropriation legislation to stop the President Muhammadu Buhari from selling public property to fund the 2021 budget.
SERAP also urged them to identify areas in the budget to cut such as salaries and allowances for members of the National Assembly and the presidency to address the growing level of deficit and borrowing.
The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, had last week confirmed that the federal government would sell some government-owned property to fund the 2021 budget.
SERAP in a letter dated January 16, 2021, signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said the National Assembly has a constitutional oversight responsibility to protect valuable public property and to ensure a responsible budget spending.
The organisation opined that allowing the government to sell public property, and to enjoy almost absolute discretion to borrow to fund the 2021 budget would amount to a fundamental breach of the constitutional and fiduciary duties.
SERAP maintained that selling valuable public property to fund the 2021 budget would be counter-productive, as it would be vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement.
The statement read in part: ‘’The time is now for the leadership of the National Assembly to stand up for the Nigerian people; stop the rush to sell public property; 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 systemic corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Tackling corruption in MDAs, and cutting waste and salaries as well as allowances of high-ranking public officials would go a long way 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.”
It added: “We would consider the option of pursuing legal action to stop the federal government from selling public property, and we may join the National Assembly in any such suit. The budget deficit and debt problems threaten Nigerians’ access to essential public goods and services, and will hurt future generations. If not urgently addressed, the deficit and debt problems would seriously undermine access to public goods and services for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.’’