BY HENRY UMORU
SIX months after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the draft copy of the N8.612 trillion 2018 budget estimates to a joint session of the National Assembly on the7th of November last year, the National Assembly, on Wednesday passed it after jerking it up by N508 billion.
The six months the 2018 budget estimates spent in the National Assembly became the longest period for consideration of an appropriation bill so far since the year 2000 when a full fledged yearly budget was first presented to it.
Expeditious consideration for the 2018 budget estimates by both chambers of the National Assembly ran into troubled waters in December last year when the federal lawmakers observed that details of implementation of the capital components of the 2017 budget were not made available by the executive
Reason for the delay in quick consideration of the budget shifted to non appearance of heads of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) before the relevant committees of both chambers in January. Specifically the Senate on the 14th of February this year as a result of the problem, read a riot act to heads of the agencies who had not appeared then.
But after the MDAs had complied with the directive in February, appropriation committees of both chambers spent the entire months of March and April to tidy up the whole process.
It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari who was worried over the non passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, in March this year, met with the leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, to strike a deal on how both arms of government would work in synergy to see to the quick and possible passage of the 2018 budget, for the overall interest of the country.
Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara had met with the President at the Presidential Villa to among others, deliberate on the thorny aspects of the budget.
It will also be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had said at the National Executive Committee, NEC meeting of the All Progressives Congress, APC that the face-off between the executive and the National Assembly had slowed down the process of government.
But the Senate, however shifted the blame to the Executive for its failure to defend the budget.
It will also be recalled that the Senate at resumption of legislative proceedings, had lampooned President Buhari for presenting before them the 2018 Appropriation bill which was full of inaccuracies, errors and inconsistencies.
Describing the Executive team as not being serious, the Senators painted a gloomy picture of the budget, arguing that there was no way the budget could be passed this year, adding that the budget proposal was “garnished with deception.”
The Senate had also maintained that it could not complete work on the 2018 budget in January as requested by the Executive, just as it took a swipe at the executive for the poor implementation of the 2017 budget which it said showed a lack of seriousness on the part of President Buhari’s economic team.
It will also be recalled that the Senate had on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, adjourned plenary for two weeks to allow its standing committees meet officials of the various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for defence sessions on their 2018 budget estimates with the belief that its committee on appropriation would submit report to that effect for consideration.
With the reading of the Appropriation Bill the third time and passed six months after President Muhammadu Buhari presented it, both the Senate and the House of Representatives finally passed a total budget to the tune of N9,120,334,988,225 for the 2018 fiscal year.
Both Chambers of the National Assembly had on Tuesday received the budget reports of their appropriation committees.
In the Senate, the report of the Committee on Appropriations was laid by the Chairman, Senator Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central and seconded by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, PDP, Edo South, while in the House of Representatives, the chairman of its Appropriations committee, Hon. Mustapha Dawaki (APC, Kano), also laid the report.
Presenting the details of the 2018 Appropriation Bill for consideration at the Senate, Chairman of the Senate committee on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje, explained that the 6% increase of the budget estimates from N 8.612 trillion to N9.120 trillion was done in consultation with the executive arm of government.
The 2018 Appropriation Bill, the highest in the nation’s history, is premised on key revenue assumptions of oil price benchmark of $51; crude oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day and exchange rate of N305/$1USD.
President Buhari’s proposal had projected an oil price benchmark at $45, crude oil production at 2.3mbpd and based on an exchange rate of N305 to $1 while the Senate confirmed that seven issues critical to the nation’s development were responsible for the increase of the budget figure.
Senator Danjuma Goje while presenting the committee’s report said,”in processing the 2018 Appropriation Bill, the Committee premised expenditure on the following key assumptions: Oil price benchmark- USD$51; Crude Oil Production- 2.3mbp/d; Exchange rate- N305/USD
“The 2018 proposals had projected an oil price benchmark as USD$45, Crude oil production at 2.3mbp and based on an exchange rate of N305 to 1 USD.”
“The Highlights of the 2018 Appropriation Bill: The 2018 Appropriation Bill as worked on, contains the following highlights: Aggregate Expenditure for the 2018 Appropriation Bill – N9, 120,334,988,225; Statutory Transfers –N530,421,368,624; Debt Service –N2,203,835,365,699; Recurrent Expenditure –N3,512,677,902,077; Capital Expenditure-N2,873,400,351,825; Fiscal Deficit-N1,954,464,993,775. Deficit to GDP-1.73 per cent.”
Senator Goje also listed the critical sectors where the increase was applied to include; “Reduction of deficit N50.88 billion; Security N46.72billion; Health N57.15billion; Power, Works and Housing N106.50billion; Education (particularly the infrastructure for the 12 newly established Universities and meal subsidy in Unity schools) N15.70billion; Judiciary N10.00billion and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) N44.20billion, which is a part payment of the NDDC liabilities on the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
According to him, this was attributed to the increase in oil price benchmark. To this end, the lawmaker said the proposal was jerked up from $45 per barrel to $51 per barrel. Highlights of the budget are: “N530,421,368,624 for Statutory Transfer; N2,203,835,365,699 for Debt Service; N3,512,677,902,077 for Recurrent Expenditure, N2,873,400,351,825 for Capital Expenditure, Fiscal Deficit of N1,954,464,993,775 and 1.73% Deficit to GDP.”
In the passed budget, sectors such as power, works and housing as well as Transportation got the highest capital allocation out of total sum of N2.873 trillion in the 2018 budget.
The breakdown shows that Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing got the highest allocation of N682.309 billion, followed by Transportation to the tune of N251.420 billion; N157.715 billion for Defence; N149.198 billion for Agriculture and Rural Development; N147.200 billion for Water Resources and N102.907 billion for Education while N150 billion was allotted for capital Special Intervention programme.
Breakdown of the 2018 budget also showed that National Assembly got N139.5 billion as against N125 billion in 2017; National Judicial Council (NJC) gets N110 billion as against the sum of N100 billion approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
One striking point in this year’s budget is the approval of one percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, CFR that was introduced into the health budget, especially the primary health.
Part payment to NDDC outstanding liabilities to Federal Government gets N33.98 billion while NNDC gets N81.883 billion; Universal Basic Education gets N109.064 billion; Independent National Electoral Commission gets N45.5 billion; National Human Rights Commission gets N3.014 billion while Public Complaint Commission gets N7.48 billion.
Out of a total sum of N2.014 trillion allotted to debt serving, the sum of N1.760 trillion is for domestic debts while N254.080 billion is for Foreign debts and additional sum of N190 billion is for sinking fund to retire matured loans.
From the total sum of N3.513 trillion approved for recurrent (non-debt) expenditure, Federal Ministry of Interior gets the highest allocation of N501.610 billion, followed by N439.256 billion for education; N419 billion for Defence; N269.965 billion for Health; N110.842 billion for Youth and Sports Development; N76.025 billion for office of the National Security Adviser; N63.535 billion for Petroleum Resources and N63.114 billion for Foreign Affairs.
In his remarks after the passage of the budget, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki said that the Executive must provide for fuel subsidy in the supplementary 2018 budget.
Saraki who noted that the inclusion of subsidy in the 2018 budget will allow for an increment in the Excess Crude Account, said, “In the area that we could not address, which is the issue of fuel subsidy, I appeal to the Executive to look into this in the interest of transparency, where an expenditure close to over one trillion must be captured in the budget and when the supplementary comes, the hope is that the executive does something about it. It is an important issue and must be addressed.
“Now that the crude oil price is up to $80, a lot of Nigerians are expecting to see our excess crude reserve account to be on a rise but if money is being used for subsidy, it’ll be difficult to explain. That is why it is important that we capture the subsidy into the budget.”
Having passed the budget, it is hoped that there will be a more harmonious relationship between the Executive and Legislature to ensure speedy passage of subsequent budgets as well as ensure that the masses do not suffer.
It is also hoped that the National Assembly would improve on its oversight function and as it embarks on this, the lawmakers must ensure that from the date the budget is signed into law, to implementation, they visit the ministries, departments and agencies of government to guide against financial leakage.
But some pertinent questions need to be asked. Will the lawmakers be able to carry out effective oversight without compromise? Do they have all the resources and wherewithal to carry out effective oversight? Will they be able to do this with experience and well trained experts and consultants? Do they have their own vehicles to carry out the work?
What about helicopters and very sophisticated machinery and equipment needed to visit the riverine and oil rich areas for oversight? Will the lawmakers ensure that implementation of 2018 budget especially capital budget gets to at least 60 percent before they start work on that of 2019?
Will there be room for improvement in the area of cooperation and collaboration between the Executive and the Legislative arm of government, especially in the area of budget defence? We wait as events unfold.