By Gbenga Ogundare
The National Commission for Persons with Disability (NCPWD) has planned to spend N877m and N2.5bn for its recurrent and capital expenditures respectively in 2024. The commission has always maintained such balance when its proposal hits the N3-billion mark, and gets the approval. In 2022, it got N3.17bn approved; N2bn of that, more than 60 percent, went to the capital vote.
But on other occasions, it’s all bread, butter, and beer. Of the N1.69bn the federal government approved for the commission last year, just N410m, about 25 percent, got earmarked for capital projects. In 2021, more than N1bn of the N1.7-billion budget went for salaries, allowances, stationery, refreshments, and others.
This year, the equilibrium in the budget may make analysts commend the financial plan—on paper. Especially in a country whose bread-and-butter bills mostly take up more than 60 percent of its budget. In those years of plenty, however, the NCPWD hasn’t executed the capital projects in manners that reflect value for money. The problem starts from the cobbling up of financial plan. Repeated over the years, it became a boilerplate.
The commission’s current budget comprises 19 line items, including capital projects and programmes. The number has ranged between 18 and 19 since 2021. And the items have mostly remained the same, just shifting around each year, carrying “new” or “ongoing” tags. No fewer than 14 are actually ongoing this year, most of them dating as far back as 2021. These items include data collection, braille production, digital disability certificate production and other projects.
And the programmes: there are PWD Empowerment, Gender and Development Programme, Accessibility Features Facilitation, and others. What runs through all these 2024 budget items is a string of project failure, non-completion, non-implementation, starting from 2021.
For the new projects, not much is exactly sparkling: Purchase of Operational Vehicles, Compliance and Enforcement ( a department icovered under the recurrent expenditure becomes a project), Construction and Purchase of Zonal Offices (this pops up every year), and Purchase of Office Furniture and Equipment (not new). The only fresh item there is the African Union Summit on Disabilities.
It has yet to bother the commission, its supervising ministry and House Committee that these projects are never-ending—or that there is nothing much on the ground the NCPWD can show for all it got so far.
Former Humanitarian Affairs Minister Sadiyat Umar-Farouq made excuses for the commission then. Low budget. Her successor Betta Edu also recently whined about it. “On behalf of 35 million Nigerians that fall within this category, we are pleading… please improve the budget for the commission,” she said, appealing to the National Assembly before her suspension.
But nothing may change—even if the commission gets all the N2.5bn approved for this year. Devourers have been embedded in it. The contract amounts it allocated to some of the items are either too big or too small.
It’s a pattern.
The braille production line item, for instance, has been perennially voted N20 million year in year out, despite inflation, advance in braille technology, and other factors. So it execution is primed to fail; it thus creates an avenue for financial misbehavior. The same applies to the Gender and Development Programme for Women With Disabilities: N5m.
For those line items with whopping figures, there is no likelihood their project execution will offer such utilitarian value. Like the operational vehicles that will gulp N200m. The last budget for that was N100m, and the commission, without inviting tenders, purchased two Hilux pick-ups for less than N30m. The old item Purchase/Construction of Zonal Offices made new will also guzzle N310m. The commission has not been able to pinpoint a zonal office structure since the item has turned a feature in the budget every year. And consider the item Mass Awareness and Advocacy Programme—to make the Discrimination Act known, and ensure its domestication. Such an exercise in futility, featuring annually, still gets N112m.
The biggest of them this year is the line item Disability Socio-economic Empowerment Programme. It doesn’t convey any specific project. Granted that is budget-speak. But whatever it is, it will be gulping N500m. That’s almost a quarter of the entire capital vote.
To figure out how huge votes like these go down the tube, consider the process.
Between 2021 and 2024, no fewer than 88 projects like these came up as line items for capital votes in the commission’s budgets. And in the last three years, only 11 have records, scanty still, of invitation to tender. The commission boasts just three records of payment published on the open portal.
Peace-meal, the billions were chipped at, and the flakes scattered over many projects with little or no need assessment.
Eventually, their execution will be of no impact, and the disability community will keep up its complaints of poor budget performance.
But here is a commission that cares for nothing. Effort of procurement CSOs and the media to make it accountable have failed. Under its Executive Secretary James Lalu, the commission refuses to follow procurement procedure, post spending on the open government treasury portal, and publishes invitation to tenders.
For as long as this lack of transparency and the defiance of the 2007 Procurement Act continue, the 2024 budget won’t fare any better.
On signing his first budget into law, President Bola Tinubu said his administration will pursue the implementation efficiently, and monitor it vigorously.
“All MDAs have been directed to take responsibility and provide monthly budget performance reports to the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning,” he said on January 2.
This is coming about the time the disability community, especially its rank and file, is calling louder on the commission to account for the billions its administration spent over the years.
Lalu ignored such calls, and weaseled out of budget checks in the commission’s first life. Humans are creatures of habit. His 2024 cut-and-paste budget already indicates he and his co-travellers are taking their chances again.