The Hub

December 8, 2011

This backwards quick march

President Jonathan

By Josef Omorotionmwan
SOME few weeks ago, we watched on television when the Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was on site to see the progress of work on a contract, which he apparently wanted expeditiously executed. Here was the contractor telling the Governor: “We intend to…”.

The Governor quickly retorted: “Look, I am paying for your action, not your intention”. We are in a world of results, not stories and excuses. People will not believe that you carried a pregnancy until you show them the baby. No one will believe that you worked hard until they see your name change from Jacob to Israel ; and from stagnation and frustration to your victory dance.

Our Federal Government is oblivious of all this, which explains why even in the last month of the year, the President has not submitted his 2012 budget proposals to the National Assembly and nobody is talking because it happens all the time.

The President would drag his feet until the final days of the year before throwing in his estimates, thus wrong-footing the legislators into considering the proposals far into the next Fiscal Year.

The National Assembly would still be surprised at 40 percent and 100 percent performance levels for capital and recurrent budgets respectively. It is perhaps not easy to remember that the recurrent budget runs for 12 months while the capital budget is operated for some six months, which is only after the budget approval.

Apparently, the Executive branch of government is clever by half. It waits for the budget approval before starting to implement the capital budget, whereas there is hardly any month that workers do not get their salaries and wages. Section 82 of the 1999 Constitution permits some level of expenditure based on the previous year’s provisions before the new budget is approved.

There is an evil practice around. At the end of the year, the National Assembly prides itself for causing the unspent funds to be returned to the treasury.

This is a vote against the National Assembly. The Executive has silently vetoed you by not implementing the budget you passed. We laugh at lame duck administrators who claim they left billions in state coffers at the point of departure. Meanwhile, they also left rickety schools, dead roads and everything dead for the people. The world over, most viable projects are financed on borrowed money. Money must be spent to develop the people and the area, not left idle for self- glorification.

We have warned somewhere else that the end of the financial year should not mark the death of a project that has been approved by the National Assembly. Under normal budgeting procedure, for any programme to take off, the legislature must take two affirmative actions: One, to authorize the programme and two, to appropriate the necessary funds for its execution.

This is where the National Assembly must possess a good budget office in the image and likeness of the Congressional Budget Office, CBO, in the US. It is the duty of the Budget Office to keep track of the duly authorised projects and ensure that they do not get missing in action or that they do not enter into “Voice Mail” and that only the amounts needed for the year are inserted into the year’s budget. Over-bloated and unregulated budgets can only lead to selective implementation and project abandonment such as we now have dotting the entire landscape of this country.

We are aware that in the current fiscal year, the President single-handedly removed the provisions intended for the completion of ongoing projects, particularly the so-called constituency projects, before signing the Appropriations Bill into law. The President may not like the idea of the constituency projects but having started them, they should not be abandoned midstream. After all, whose shame is it that we are fast becoming the world’s undisputed heavyweight champions of abandoned projects?

One bad turn deserves another. The obnoxious idea of extending the life of the current budget is already making the rounds. Need we re-iterate here that as of now, Nigeria has only one Financial Year, January 1 to December 31? Until this is amended, extending the life of a budget from one fiscal year to another remains a nullity.

This explains why, early this year, circulars were issued to the ministries and extra- ministerial departments, directing them to stop implementation on the 2010 appropriations. It is illegal to be implementing the 2010 appropriations in 2011. In just the same way that you cannot postpone Christmas, you cannot, by subsidiary legislation, increase the number of days in a year.

There is, however, a marriage of convenience to which we can close our eyes: Far into the new fiscal year, transactions could be made to bear December 31 of the preceding year. This is not the same as seeking to extend, by law, the execution of the 2011 budget into 2012.

There is a way to curb the excesses of the Executive and save all of us from this backwards quick march: Let the National Assembly develop a good budget cycle under which it can, by law, compel the Executive to submit its budget proposals at a time specific; and also put in place, laws that will ensure that the Appropriation Bill is passed and signed into law before the end of the preceding year so that the Appropriation Act is implemented throughout the Fiscal Year for which it is designed.