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High politics, thy name is budget

This story is about  why Appropriation Acts in Nigeria suffer so much discount on account of the political intrigues which go into budget conception, preparation, presentation and budget implementation.

By Jide Ajani  & Emmanuel Aziken

THE meeting was meant to be brief.   Yes, it was. But did it achieve the set objective?   No, it did not. This was a meeting between a former Senate President then and President  Olusegun Obasanjo.  There appeared to be what a senator described as a stalemate.

The year was 2002.  It was during one of the preparatory meetings to COJA, the All African Games.  There were new overheads being introduced into the supplementary budget for which the National Assembly, Chaired by Anyim Pius Anyim, as Senate President could just not understand.  The national assembly did not see any justification for the introduction of new overheads brought in by way of a Supplementary Budget while the main budget for the year was already lacking in implementation.  This was July, 2002.

Shortly on the heels of this was the attempt by the House of Representatives, under the Speakership of Ghali Umar Na’Abba, to impeach President Obasanjo.  And what constituted in the main, the impeachable offences?  His alleged  breach of the Appropriation Acts as passed by the National Assembly.

The alleged offences were legion.  And whereas Obasanjo attempted to put a bold face to the issues at hand, it was the geo-political complexities of Nigeria, ably toned down by good sense, which saved Obasanjo from being impeached by the House of Representatives.

Welcome to the complex world of budgets in Nigeria.

Since 1999, when the Fourth Republic kicked off, Nigeria’s budgets have never really been implemented as appropriated.  The corollary of this is that the much needed development of some key areas in the economy almost always suffers discounts of gargantuan proportions.  The question to ask is why does this happen over and over.
The politics involved in budget conception, budget preparation, budget presentation and budget implementation, have almost always equally posed a problem.

Take the 2009 budget as an example. Just before presentation by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, the Senate and the House of Representatives had agreed that the 2009 Appropriation Bill would be expeditiously passed.  Upon receipt of same, the Senate went ahead to pass it and, therefore, deliver it to the President.  The House of Representatives reneged and, decided to engage in a thorough legislative scrutiny of the budget.

This angered the Senate and its President, David Mark.

But before Mark was  Pius Anyim.

Some time in 2002, there was a controversy over Constituency Projects. This was a ways and means approach by the senators to ensure that their constituents felt the impact of their senators.  The senators ensured that projects dear (or so it seemed) to their constituents found expression in the Appropriation Act which they passed for the year.  The senators also went ahead to put a cap on the expenditure.

The cap was N500 million per senatorial district.  This was, as it was conceived, a means of ensuring that the constituents at the senatorial district level saw, first hand, what their senators had brought back home.  But even that attempt at budget delivery suffered its own set back as the Presidency and the senate could not agree on the modus of implementation.

Whereas some senators wanted to determine which projects, or which contractors or how the funds for the projects would be disbursed, President Obasanjo saw it differently.  To the senators, since the idea of constituency projects was theirs, they should be left to determine its implementation.

To Obasanjo, the senators, who are by nature legislators, have no business executing projects.  This led to a stalemate which almost brought down the polity.

It got so bad that at some point during the first term of  Obasanjo, the National Assembly merely rubber stamped the budget proposal in protest.

In the last two years of President Umaru  Yar’Adua, emphasis has not been given to it at all.

The Senate and House of Representatives have consistently had arguments over the amount they should provide for each other.

Two years ago, the House in its version of the budget reduced the budget for the Senate while increasing the provision for the House.

Senate and House of Representatives last year quarreled over the way they should treat the budget. An agreement had been brokered with the presidency and reportedly with the PDP that the budget should be passed before ending of December 2008. The Senate went ahead to pass it though many committees had not finished work on the budget, but the House reneged on the agreement and went on to scrutinize the budget.

Senators felt bad that they were made to look bad in the eyes of the public and that was one of the issues in the recent face off.

There are, however, other factors which continue to affect the budget conception, budget preparation, budget presentation and budget implementation, have almost always equally posed a problem.

First is the mentality and the temperament of the President. Obasanjo proved this point so much that Nigerians merely became helpless and shuddered almost always at his crass disregard for the Appropriation Act.

Second is the availability of funds for execution of projects. Added to this is the fact that the geo-political complexities of the Nigerian nation sometimes creates artificial delays in the way and manner some budgetary overheads are implemented just so other geo-political zones would not feel hurt.

Fact file

Nov. 8, 2007: President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua presented his first (2008) Appropriation Bill in which the Federal Government proposed to spend N2.546 trillion as against the N2.3 billion budget of 2007.

Nov. 18, 2007: House of Representatives speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, said the House will enforce compliance with budgetary provisions by ministers, saying the enforcement will be carried out through oversight function;

Nov. 19, 2007: Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola, said the Federal Government would hold ministers accountable for poor implementation of the 2008 budget.

Nov. 25, 2007: House of Representatives dismissed the speculation that the N444 billion voted in the 2008 budget for security in the Niger Delta was to fight militants operating in the region.

Dec. 3, 2007: Senate Committee on Federal Character and Governmental Affairs queried the N1 billion proposal for the purchase of new vehicles for ministers and special advisers.

Dec. 19, 2007: Reps cancelled Sallah, Christmas holidays to enable them complete work on 2008 budget by December 20.

Dec. 20, 2007: Senate President David Mark warned ministers inclined to bribing senators for favourable budget considerations to retrace their steps, warning that the Senate would expose anyone found culpable.

Dec. 24, 2007: Senate signaled intention to increase budget estimates through the resolution of its appropriation committee to peg the benchmark for oil revenue at $60 as against $53.83 proposed by the executive.

Dec. 27, 2007: House Speaker Bankole blamed inability of parliament to pass the 2008 budget by Dec. 20. on heads of government parastatals and agencies who refused to provide information on how money appropriated to them in 2007 was spent.

Jan. 4, 2008: Senate received the profile used in computing the 2008 budget proposals.

Feb. 12, 2008: The Senate and House of Representatives passed 2008 budget. While the Senate added N500 billion to the N2.4 trillion proposed by Yar’Adua, Reps topped it with N491 billion.  Both chambers approved that the budget be funded by oil revenue of $59 per barrel.

Feb. 22, 2008: Senate, Reps, harmonised budget, arrived at N2.898 trillion, sent bill to President for his assent.

Feb. 25, 2008: Yar’Adua withheld assent to budget, returned bill to Senate, Reps; demanded details of harmonised budget.

March 31, 2008: National Assembly submitted budget details to the president.

April 14, 2008: After several months of disagreement with lawmakers, the president signed into law 2008 budget of N2.748 trillion with a charge to government agencies to implement it with “the highest sense of responsibility and total deference to due process”.

Nov. 18, 2008: Yar’Adua presented N2.87 trillion 2009 budget.

Dec. 5, 2008: Reps began debate on 2009 budget.

Dec. 5, 2008: Senate fixed December deadline for passage of 2009 budget.

Dec. 19, 2008: Senate passed N3.049 trillion 2009 budget, with N900 million addition.

Jan. 8, 2009: Reps uncovered N40 billion allocation to completed projects.

Jan. 27, 2009: Reps  passed N2.94 trillion budget, raised it  by N700 million.

March 12, 2009: Yar’Adua signed N3.1 trillion budget; expressed worries over addition by National Assembly.

The budget process

•Spending proposals are prepared by the MDAs and sent to the Budget  Office.

•The proposals are reconciled with the outgoing year’s release for consistency.

•The Budget Office working with the finance team determines what is feasible and forwards to the president.

•On the basis of this an appropriation bill is  prepared and delivered to the legislature as the budget speech.

•The bill  goes through legislative procedure and MDAs are also invited to defend their proposals.

•The appropriation bill is passed and presented to for assent by president.

•The finance minister  presents a breakdown of the budget to the business/policy community.

In the process, of course, there could be slight variations from government to government.


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