Nigerians and civil society organisations have knocked the executive chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Muhammad Mamman Nami for proposing a whopping N4.131bn as refreshments and meal subsidies in the 2021 fiscal year.
According to budget documents presented before the James Faleke-led Committee on Finance of the House of Representatives, the service is also proposing the sum of N310 million as security vote for the chairman in its 2021 budget estimates.
This was even as members of the House Committee on Finance expressed dismay at FIRS for proposing to expend a total of N1,819,556,000 on contract drivers in 2021.
The figures which are contained on page 17 under the proposed Recurrent Overhead for the Year 2021 of the agency’s budget documents shows that while the sum of N340 million is proposed for ‘refreshments and meals’, a whopping sum of N3, 791,456,233 was proposed as ‘meal subsidy’.
However, the total spent on refreshments as a line item in 2020, according to the documents, was N337,320,234.
A closer look at the document also shows that the concept of meal subsidy as proposed by the service in 2021 is a new introduction to its budget proposal as there was no such thing in 2020.
The agency is also proposing to spend another N4.2 billion for staff welfare, festivity, and other unspecified items.
This line item could be seen on page 18 under Recurrent Overhead for the year 2021.
The agency, on page 47 of its document, has also proposed to erect solar streetlights at unspecified locations across the country. On page 51, the agency proposed to spend the sum of N150 million for the said project.
Also under a subhead on page 51, captioned, ‘Power Electricity Distribution’, the agency has proposed to spend the sum of N680 million.
Under a subhead of Security/Safety Equipment, the agency, on page 48, proposed the sum of N1.175,200,000.
The same item was cited on page 53 and described as Security/Safety Equipment: CSG, N550 million; SSFM, N843 million, respectively.
A total of this sum under the line item would amount to another N1.393 billion.
Under Acquisition of Land and Building, as seen on page 48, serial number 2200, the agency also proposed to spend the sum of N470 million on FCT Park and Recreation.
Lawmakers had expressed dismay at the proposal submitted by the agency at the review of the 2020 and defence of 2021 budget with the management of FIRS in Abuja.
The lawmakers also expressed concerns at the astronomical increase in various expenditures incurred during the period under review.
The committee, which picked holes in what it described as bogus recurrent expenditure, also frowned at the N369,848,167 proposed to be spent on other contract staff in 2021.
The FIRS also proposed an increase in the personnel cost for 2021, which is predicated on the payment of 13-month salary equivalent to one month salary (estimated at N5,717,228,982), subsistence allowance of 30% of consolidated salary (N20,582,024,334), 50% performance bonus of annual consolidated salary (N34,303,373,889).
According to documents cited, FIRS internally generated revenue stands at N251,189,952 against the sum of N50 million proposed in 2020, while the sum of N50 million was also proposed for 2021.
The lawmakers also queried the projected non-oil cost of collection of 4% worth N137.411 billion which accrued to FIRS in 2020 and the rationale behind the proposed 7% cost of collection worth N298.441 billion for 2021 in breach of extant provisions in the Nigeria Customs Act.
Nigerians and civil society organisations however condemned the budget of the revenue board. The groups, including Transparency International and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, accused the tax collecting agency of insensitivity and misplacement of priority.
Executive Director, CISLAC and Head, Transparency International in Nigeria, Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), expressed shock that such a huge amount could be set aside for frivolities at a time the nation’s economy was in dire straits.
He said, “While the nation struggles hard to finance its budget, a significant proportion of the budget slips through mismanagement and reckless spending that intrinsically dominates public sector activities. It is more worrisome that the reckless spending has been normalised with resultant underfunded critical sector that is vital to efficiently revamp the sinking economic development.”
Speaking in a similar vein, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Writers Association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, described the situation as depressing and utterly unconscionable. Onwubiko said, “At a time of massive unemployment, mass poverty and high crime rates caused by lack of capacity on the part of the security forces and particularly the Nigeria Police Force that has collapsed due to poor funding, corruption and indiscipline, it is shocking that an agency of the Federal Government can set aside the sum of N1.4bn for them to feed and make merry all year round.”