By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE may keep deceiving ourselves for as long as we want; but the stark reality before us is that the 2018 Appropriation Act is dead on arrival. It is not any different from the previous years’ Appropriations.
Slightly beneath all the theatricals and outward appearance of an adversary situation between the Legislative and Executive branches, there apparently exists, a grand conspiracy between them to foist on the nation, for want of a better description, what we call, the lazyman’s budget. This is a Capital Budget that is intended for 12 months but it operates virtually for less than four months in the year.
We all agree that late budgeting is the bane of our nation’s development. But year after year, government gives us the lazyman’s budget. This late budgeting is perhaps by a deliberate design of the Executive and the Legislature; who derive bountiful benefits from their apparent tardiness.
The Financial Year is from January 1 to December 31. For the first nine months, government is virtually on a leave of absence with full pay. First, apart from a few scattered projects, chosen from the previous year’s bulk, albeit illegally, they are quick to say that there is the absence of the year’s approved budget; and by the time the budget is eventually approved around June, the rainy season has set in and public works are put on hold till October.
Search no further, then, why the Recurrent side of the budget invariably performs at close to 100 percent while the Capital side limps around the 13 percentage level. What we see here is that government exists for the sole purpose of paying salaries and allowances to itself, without giving any attention to the issues of development. This is irresponsible, to put it mildly.
The lazyman’s budget leaves a lot of idle funds for the Federal Government to throw around, thus producing a lot of corrupt tendencies. In a situation of this nature, a lot of slush funds are available. For instance, Monies allocated for the procurement of arms and ammunition end up in private pockets and illegal campaign funds. After government has paid itself bogus salaries and allowances; and after paying for those faceless constituency projects, it is time to close the books for the year. They have just reeled out a budget of more than N9.12 trillion but in times of performance evaluation, the figures will sink to the lower trillions. This is also undesirable and legitimate questions must begin to be asked as to how long this trend will continue.
When the late budget finally arrives, all accusing fingers are pointed to the National Assembly, NASS. Even where a Senate that has perhaps unwittingly turned itself to a “Supporters’ Club” – abandoning its duty post and migrating to the court on the numerous occasions when individual Senators are invited – the Senate cannot be totally exonerated from blame, the Senate cannot also be alone in the ensuring tardiness. The duty of giving us an annual appropriation is shared between the Executive and the Legislature. For as long as the Draft Estimates and the Appropriation Bill get late to the NASS, the Appropriation Act will always come out late.
When the President presents the Appropriation Bill to the NASS in the dying days of the year, the popular press goes to work, urging the NASS to pass the Bill within the next few days, unknown to many that between project approval and authorisation; and between proper scrutiny, legislative oversight and appropriation, the bulk of the work on the budget is in the NASS. When President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the NASS on November 7, 2017, he was praised to the high heaves; and people demanded that the NASS should approve the budget by the end of the year.
Even where the President’s presentation was slightly ahead of previous years’ presentations, it was already late. It is only now that my friends might begin to forgive me for postulating at that time that if the NASS worked extremely hard, the earliest time that the 2018 Appropriation Bill would be passed could be May 2018. Indeed, if it took the Executive 10 long months to produce the Draft Estimates, why do we require the NASS to gallop through it in one short month?
Indeed, if the-powers-that-be are not benefiting from the late budget, why can’t they give us an early budget that is in tandem with our Financial Year, by simply kick-starting the process early? After all, budgeting is an all-year-round affair; and budgets are not made into a water-light compartment that cannot be adjusted in either direction. In the course of the Financial Year, unforeseen situations are accommodated by means of supplementary appropriations as amply provided for in Section 81(4) of the 1999 Constitution.
We have consistently 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 Financial Year for which the budget is intended.
Apart from their clandestine motives, the NASS and the Executive have no justification for vacillating on the issue of giving us An Act for A Budget Cycle, based on an improvement on the following sketch:
March 1: The Budget Ministry shall issue call letters to the Ministries, Agencies and Departments, including the Judiciary and the National Assembly.
April 30: All Requests are received and collated for onward transmission to the National Assembly.
July 31: The President presents the Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly.
August 31: End of Debates on the general principles of the budget and referral to relevant Committees of both Houses.
October 15: Committees report out the Appropriation Bill.
November 15: Appropriation Bill passed by both Houses; and forwarded to the President for his assent.
December 15: President assents to the Bill.