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Our annual budget mess must end

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari affected an air of sadness on Wednesday, 20th June 2018 as he reluctantly signed the third Federal budget initiated by his administration. His main grouse was that the National Assembly tinkered with the 2018 Appropriation Bill so drastically that it would be difficult to implement.

Top among his misgivings was that the lawmakers slashed N347 billion from allocations to 4,700 projects while inserting 6,403 projects of their own worth N578 billion. The President complained that allocations to some strategic projects such as the Second Niger Bridge, the Mambilla Power project, the East-West Road, the Lagos-Ibadan Express road among others, were cut in a manner that would negatively impact their completion schedules.

As with almost all the budgets processed since the dawn of our nascent democracy in 1999, the 2018 Appropriation Act was dogged by muscle-flexing between the Presidency and the National Assembly. Up till now, both estates of the realm have their respective notions of their own powers over the budget. Section 82 of the constitution which empowers the President to compose and present an Appropriation Bill before each chamber of the National Assembly for authorisation has remained contentious.

While the Executive and its sympathisers claim that the National Assembly is meant to more or less rubber-stamp the President’s Appropriation Bill, the lawmakers counter-claim that as “representatives of the people” charged with “the power of the purse”, the document laid by the President is “a mere proposal”. They believe they have the right to make whatever changes they deem fit for the good of the people.

This truculent attitude on both sides has been responsible, more than any other factor, for the long-drawn delays. Unlike in the Second Republic when the national budget cycle ran unobtrusively from January to December, there is no  discernible budget cycle anymore. The situation is not helped by the growing recalcitrance of the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) when asked to appear and defend their budgets. There is so much in-fighting and lack of common purpose despite the fact that the party in power has typically produced the President and majority of members of each chamber of the National Assembly since 1999.

We can no longer continue like this. As we’ve done in other logjams between the two branches of the Federal Government, we call on the Attorney-General of the Federation to refer the appropriate constitutional provisions on the budget to the Judiciary. It is time to know where the power of one branch ends and the other begins.

We also suggest that the Budget Office and the respective Committees of the National Assembly on Appropriation should always harmonise their differences to avoid working at cross-purposes. These fights are hampering our economic growth and national development, and must stop.

 


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