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Matters arising from the budget

By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE are still running round in circles, doing things the same old ways and expecting different results. In all, delay is dangerous, particularly in the budgetary process.

Whichever way we look at it, the first one year of the President Muhammadu Buahri-led administration, representing 25 percent of the four-year tenure, is gone. On implementation, this was apparently a wasted period.

The administration has three more years to deliver on those lofty promises made to the electorate. It is a copout that the 2016 appropriation will be implemented for twelve months from the date of the President’s accent, which means that this budget shall be executed into June 2017.

What of the 2017 appropriation? By extrapolation, that will be implemented into a better half of 2018; and down the line, that also means that the 2019 appropriation will be implemented into a better half of 2020.

After May 29, 2019, will the current administration extend its tenure to implement the second half of the 2019 appropriation? And let’s not forget that by an Act of the National Assembly, our Financial Year runs from January 1 to December 31. This Act has not been abrogated.

Perhaps unwittingly, every administration in Nigeria short-changes itself by reducing its effective life-span to two years. As we have seen in the case of the current administration, the first year is spent, or rather wasted, in preparing to hit the ground running. The fourth year is also spent in electioneering and campaigning for re-election.

How much achievement can we expect from such a government that struggles to do in two years what ought to be done in four years?

We shall continue to suggest the imperative of a Budget Cycle as a panacea for the continued rigmarole on the budgetary process. By superior legislation, the Budget Cycle, which runs for about 30 months, compels certain actions to be taken on the budget at specific dates, culminating in the presidential accent on the budget not later than October preceding the Fiscal Year for which the budget is intended. In concrete terms, the 2017 appropriation bill should have been undergoing processing since April 2014 and it should be almost ready by now.

The Budget Cycle is apolitical. It does not matter which party is in power. For instance, 2016 is an Election Year in the United States of America. By January 20 2017, President Barack Obama must vacate office. He is, however, compelled by law to ascent to the 2017 appropriation bill not later than October 2016.

As the Fiscal Year progresses, exigencies are  accommodated through supplementary appropriations.

Budgets should not be personalised. For as long as we continue to personalise our budgets, we shall continue to have abandoned projects dotting the entire landscape. What comes to mind here is the Mono-Rail project in Port Harcourt, which is seemingly facing abandonment. If you think of the billions of Naira in budgetary outlays already sunk into the project; and think of its optimum utility as a project that was intended to cure the frustrating terrible traffic congestion in the Greater Port Harcourt Area, you will easily come to the inevitable conclusion that the abandonment of the project will be a colossal waste of the taxpayers’ money. That is what budget personalisation brings about.

What people do not know is that no matter how much you disagree with your predecessor in office and the project initiated by him, the credit for the completion of that project will ultimately come to you. After all, the end of a thing is more glorifying than the beginning thereof.

Every moment in the legislature is vital and every law-maker must remain alert and “shine his eyes well-well”. Legislators must take pleasure in what they do. When a job ceases to be  fun, boredom invariably sets in. This easily explains why, ordinarily, the musician lives longer than the mortician because the musician’s life is one continuous chain of pleasure only punctuated by rare moments of sadness.

The budget, or any legislation for that matter, cannot always be devoid of ethnic or tribal colouration. This is one way of explaining the fact that Senators and Representatives, with their varied interests, are elected from different parts of the country. It is the aggregation of all their varied interests that makes Nigeria what it is. The basic assumption here is that when each legislator properly represents his area, the entire nation will be properly represented.

This is where it becomes difficult to believe that some Senators have not been sleeping on duty lately. The Coastal Railway Project from Lagos to Calabar as contained in the original Estimates is seen as a bold effort to cure the menace of port congestions besetting this country. At the National Assembly, this laudable budgetary provision was removed and substituted with some projects up-North.

When the bubble eventually burst, the Southern Senators were the ones shouting loudest that the President should not sign the appropriation bill except the Railway project was re-instated. The salient question is: Where were these Southern Senators when the provision was being removed and transferred to the North? Evidently, they were passing the buck and buck-passing is hardly the stuff of which good legislators are made.

If Buhari were not a detribalised Nigerian; and were he an ethnic bigot as we have seen among some past leaders, he would have signed the appropriation bill as passed by the National Assembly; and the Railway Project would have been lost permanently.

In budgeting, you must put your money where your mouth is. Nigerian legislators are wont to show interest only on the spending side of the budget, without due regard to the basic accounting principle that for every debit, there must be a corresponding credit.

For every project suggested, legislators have a duty to look for the revenue source for its execution. Again, you can’t be expecting to earn so much from say the Solid Minerals sector without setting aside adequate budgetary outlays for minerals prospecting and other associated developments.

 


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