Having practiced this profession for more than 25 years directly, I am often very reluctant to join issues with publications in the media even if it affects what I am doing. Instead, whenever I find some inaccuracies in facts and presentation I try to provide information and background for the sake of future presentations.
Since assumption of duty as the Media Adviser to the Minister of Budget and National Planning almost a year ago, I have tried as much as possible to provide necessary information, often under cover, to my colleagues in practice to enable them do their job well.
This would be my very first reaction in this format since I left active practice about three years ago; and I am doing this because the causative action seems persistent from one source. Again, I also acknowledge the fact that comments are free, while facts are scared in this business. An opinion article can flow with the perception and exposure of the writer but an Editorial does not; and therefore should not be allowed to flow with the whims of an individual, because it is the position of the media organization. It must be based on facts.
I was surprised reading through the Editorial of a National Newspaper on Thursday, December 1, 2016 titled “End these budget embarrassments”. A media house is at liberty to take any position on an issue it feels concerned about, but when such position is derived from false assumptions, then some ill-motive and even malice could be inferred, especially if it becomes as persistent as this has become.
The editorial started by indicating that “On Wednesday, November 23, 2016, the Senate once again rejected the Federal Government’s draft budget for 2017. In addition, they condemned the 2017 to 2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) as well as the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) which accompanied it.” This is absolutely wrong in fact and presentation.
It would be necessary to point out here that at no time was the draft 2017 Budget sent to the National Assembly. The first outing of the draft 2017 budget from the Ministry of Budget and National Planning was on Wednesday, November 30, 2016, when it was presented before the Federal Executive Council (FEC), for consideration and approval.
It is after the approval by FEC that the President can formally lay it on the table at the National Assembly for consideration. This is a common procedure known to even the uninitiated. That action is proposed for next week, if the National Assembly gives the go-ahead. For the Editorial Board of a serious national newspaper to then make such a faulty suggestion leaves much to be desired.
Secondly, the MTEF/FSP did not accompany the said “2017 Budget proposal”. The document went to FEC in August and was submitted to the National Assembly by the Presidency in September. This is another display of absolute ignorance by the writer(s) about the document. The MTEF/FSP contains economic fundamentals on which basis national budgets are prepared; and could not have accompanied a budget whose framework it was supposed to provide.
Again, the Editorial stated that “Many of the lawmakers were also in support of sending the entire MTEF/FSP package back to the Presidency. Only the intervention of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, saved the President Muhammadu Buhari government from the embarrassment of having yet another document being thrown back at it by the National legislature.” Another faux pas!
It requires pointing out here that the Senate never, at any time, returned the MTEF/FSP to the Executive; and this somehow shows that the writer(s) of the Editorial do(es) not understand normal Executive/Legislative engagements on documents like the MTEF/FSP which are mere assumptions and projections that require robust engagements to fine tune, as both arms may be looking at different variables in the consideration of their respective conclusions.
The initial spat between the two on the MTEF/FSP matter was triggered off by a false report in a national newspaper which irked the Senate Leader who in a bid to exonerate the National Assembly from blame in the delay of presentation of the 2017 Budget proposal, said vide a Point of Order, and definitely not during consideration, that the document was “empty” – a reason he claimed was why the Senate was taking its time. A matter/bill on this nature can only be formally discussed at the plenary if it is on the Order Paper for the day, not through a Point of Order – another very simple legislative procedure.
This aspect was clearly explained by us, even though the Senate President during his intervention had also cleared the air on the matter. It was also clear that the documents were caught in the midst of the usual Executive/Legislative politics; but that did not stop the needed engagements.
As indicated earlier, this is just a friendly call, to draw attention to something that is fast becoming a pastime. It is done because of the respect I have for the organization and its leaders and the relationship we share at various levels.
Akpandem James is Special Adviser to the Honourable Minister of Budget and National Planning