By Josef Omorotionmwan
OUR forefathers were wiser. Even among those who were regarded as illiterates – simply because they did not receive our type of formal education – they knew that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. Our fathers planned their farming activities well ahead of time.
Quite early in a current year, our father would show us where we were going to farm the following year. Depending on the weather and the sighting of the moon, from January to December, farmers know when to start preparing the land; when to plant what; and when to start harvesting for maximum yield. So is it that in every human endeavour, there is a calendar and a plan of action. Government is not exempted from this rule.
Yet, seventeen years into the 21st century, Nigeria is unable, or unwilling, to produce for itself, an annual plan for its revenue and expenditure. By the law of the National Assembly, NASS, the Financial Year, FY, of Nigeria runs from January 1 to December 31 every year, which presupposes that the execution of the year’s budget should start on the 1st day of January.
Instead, our politicians have constructively reduced the lifespan of our annual budgets from twelve to six months! Our legislators would rather spend more time, rationalising their failure. The “ember months”, signaling the end of the year, are here again but nobody is saying anything about the 2018 Appropriations.
In FY 2015, the triangular debate between the Executive/Senate/House of Representatives on an acceptable figure as Bench-mark for our oil price consumed the first four months of the budgetary process.
FY 2016 was when the nebulous concept of “Budget Padding” first entered our political lexicon. The debate on that new entry took another four months of the year’s budget debates.
In FY 2017, out of nowhere, just about when the Budget was to be passed, we were inundated with the Goje imbroglio in which the police allegedly broke into the residence of Senator Danjuma Goje, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, and impounded the laptop containing the 2017 appropriation documents. This introduced some protracted delay into the process, even where we saw that the Inspector-General of Police promptly intervened and Senator Goje’s almighty laptop was returned to him in the evening of the day it was impounded.
It is, however, highly improbable that the Chairman of a Committee would be exclusively in charge of keeping the Budget documents. What, then, are the roles of the Secretary and other members of the Committee? They have succeeded in bamboozling everybody to the extent that nobody ever addressed the missing link in the Goje contraption: What was the original motive of the police raid on Goje’s residence and the subsequent cash findings? All that is gone with the winds!
The National Assembly must wake up to its responsibilities. At best, the budget rollover to which they subject us annually is simply a corruption-stimulus. Year after year, the nation’s budget, which is meant for 12 months does not get passed until around June, thus reducing its operational life to just six months. How much achievement can anyone expect from a government that is struggling to do in six months what it ought to do in 12 months?
During the budgetary process, Ministries and Agencies scramble for, and sometimes purchase, enhanced Capital Allocations but in the final analysis, no one ever asks how much of the enhanced allocations get released to them. This is a matter for public interest.
Again, with all the rigmarole on the budgetary process our budgets invariably end up being approved into the heart of the rainy season, which has a most debilitating effect on our public works; while agricultural loans and the cropping season for which they are intended get hopelessly distorted.
Tardiness snowballs into many areas: when legislators say that the budget will run for 12 months from the date of presidential assent, they ignore the fact that our FY which has not been altered is from January 1 to December 31. Essentially, the 2016 budget was intended to be implemented far into 2017. By extrapolation, that will also mean that the 2017 appropriation will be executed far into 2018; and so down the line, it implies that the 2019 appropriation will be executed far into 2020.
This is where we see government shooting itself on the foot because when the chips are down, after May 29 2019, the current administration cannot extend its current tenure to implement the second half of the 2019 appropriation.
In all this, there are no problems with our Recurrent Expenditure Budgets because in every situation, salaries and wages as well as overhead costs must run on. Our concern is with Capital Expenditure. Year after year, our Recurrent Budgets perform at near 100 percent level while the Capital Expenditure side hovers meagerly around the 13 percentage level; hence the nation’s development remains perpetually retarded. What else can we expect from a situation where government is only able to pay salaries and allowances to its workers; release funds for some ramshackle Constituency Projects; and it is time to go home! Ha, ha!
This Column has in the past advocated the adoption of a specific Budget Cycle, at least a semblance of what they have in the US, where by superior legislation, the Budget Cycle that runs for about 30 months, compels certain actions to be taken on the Budget by specific dates, culminating in the presidential assent not later than October preceding the FY for which the Budget is intended.
By benefit of hindsight, this tall dream is no longer feasible. All one can now ask for is a budget cycle with some semblance to the illiterate farmer’s farming circle – in which Appropriation Bills (including submissions from the Federal Agencies) shall be presented to the NASS not later than the end of August every year so that they can be passed before legislators proceed on their yuletide holidays. That way, we shall step into a new Financial Year with a new budget.