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2018 budget and fiscal nonchalance

BY  now, most Nigerians may have lost confidence in Nigeria’s national budget and budgetary system. They believe the economy can trudge on irrespective of the budget, and that whatever results posted in the performance indicators could have happened with or without the budget.

In as much as this position may appear exaggerated, the reality is that the anticipated outcomes of the usually good fiscal plans get lost at the end of the fiscal year, and the economy remains under-performing despite huge amounts spent.

This is now the plight of the 2018 Appropriation Bill tabled before the National Assembly since November 7, 2017. The Bill is yet to be considered and if the due process of the passage into law is put in perspective, Nigeria may not have the 2018 budget in place (yet again) until June. This is the third consecutive budgetary crisis the country has faced since change of government in 2015.

The problem has always been the political hangover of the disharmony in the ruling party, the frosty relationship between the Legislature and the Executive arms of government and also the shoddy jobs that have characterised the budgetary profile of the Federal Government.

Last week’s order by President Buhari on the bureaucrats to respond to the Legislature’s summons to budget defence may have thrown a worrisome light on what has been the problem in the 2018 budget crisis, and perhaps, what has always been the problem.

We draw attention to the claims early this month by Ben Akabueze, the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, to the effect that the problem was the intransigence of the National Assembly, alleging that the Ministries and the MDAs have all complied with the demands of the National Assembly. Nothing can be further from the truth going by the recent order of the President.

We wonder why functionaries of the Executive arm would not be eager and prompt in answering to the demands of the Legislature in terms of clarifying issues bordering on their budgetary proposals. What do they have to hide or lose by appearing as summoned?

The tragedy we are facing as a democracy now is a situation where the Appropriation Act no longer counts in economic and public finance actions of the government, where the executive arm may be spending without appropriation, and where the Appropriation Act may have become a mere ritual. This is an intolerable act of impunity.

We, therefore, charge the National Assembly to go beyond the Appropriation Act enactment to beam the searchlight on the spending of the Executive arm to ensure compliance with the Appropriation Act and due process. We cannot condone nonchalance in the area of public finance and expect the nation’s economic troubles to be fixed.

 


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