Thursday, 14 July 2016

N500 billion social intervention fund

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

A debate on whether to disburse or not the N500 billion social intervention fund, appropriated in the 2016 national budget, has interestingly become a bone of contention between the executive and the legislative arms of government. While the executive has actually commenced implementation of the budget with regard to the social intervention fund, at least in the areas of feeding school children and employment of teachers, a report the other day credits the House of Representatives with directing that utilisation of the fund should be stopped “until a framework was provided for the disbursement.”

It is not clear whether, in approving the budget, the House included a precondition that the implementation framework should be submitted to it by the executive prior to disbursement of funds. If not, its call on the executive to submit such framework before funds are disbursed is obviously belated and indeed, an afterthought.

Consequently, the executive must not be prevented or stopped from going ahead with the on-going implementation. At best, what the House should do now is to request to be provided with the necessary operational framework for the social intervention programme in order to aid in playing its oversight roles. Directing that nothing should be done until it is furnished with the framework seems to suggest that the House is oblivious of the needs of the times.

Besides, we are already in the second half of the year and the group targeted for the intervention fund can hardly wait any longer. As it is very obvious, the socio-economic environment is very bad, hard and biting. For the masses to look up to the appropriated intervention fund for relief without getting it as quickly as possible is like driving them into hopelessness and desperation with unimaginable dire consequences.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is important to state that the need for government to always provide a framework for implementation of its major programmes cannot be over-emphasised. Such frameworks are expected to clearly spell out the need/rationale, essence, objectives, measurable targets/milestones and derivable values or benefits of the programme.

In it are also expected to be indicated in unambiguous terms the purpose, for instance, regarding whether it is to create something new or promote or improve or expand the ones already existing. The faith the government has in the success of the intended programme and the structure upon which it will be driven are also imperatives for specification. Also very important is a highlight of the envisaged challenges and risks as well as their mitigants.

In the case of the already on-going social intervention, it would have been very necessary to signify whether it is intended to be operated for a short, medium or long term and the justifications for any decided tenure for the programme. All these and much more should have been articulated and put forward at the stage of consideration of the budget to enable the lawmakers properly evaluate the programme before making any appropriation.

So, the lawmakers would rightly and justifiably have conditionally demanded the framework prior to, but not subsequent to appropriation. Thus, insistence on provision of the framework at the point of implementation or when the implementation has commenced is like putting a car that is on forward motion suddenly in a reverse gear. The outcome may be dangerous.

As it is well known, there had been huge intervention funds in the areas of power and energy, rice, textiles, airport, and so on, which went down the drains.. The nation still reels in the pains of such wastages. And this is not the time to again subject Nigeria to such unpalatable experience. Thus, the current social intervention programme should be seen as one of the key performance measures for President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. If it succeeds, posterity will be favourably disposed to him and his government.

It is imperative, therefore, that since implementation of the current intervention is just beginning, the government, if it had not thought it through and put its house in order, should quickly in-build the necessary success factors into the operational framework. If considered exigent, the government can still come up with an exposure draft of the programme so that input for its improvement and enhancement can be made to assure success. Thereafter, the fine-tuned framework can be sent to the legislature to guide its oversight functions while aggressive implementation is pursued.

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