By Josef Omorotionmwan
NIGERIA has just given itself a 2018 Appropriation Act of N9.12 Trillion with a Capital component of about 50 percent. This Budget limped out of the National Assembly, NASS, some N500 Billion higher than it went in. On the surface, these figures appear quite impressive.
But of what use is a king-size bed when there is nobody to sleep on it? It is not really the size of the budget that matters but how much of it can be implemented. The budget originally intended for an entire year is arriving at a quarter to the end of the year; and at the heart of the rainy season when virtually nothing can be done in the area of public works. The effective life of this Capital Budget is only about three months.
We are impelled sometimes to question the conventional wisdom in preparing a Capital Budget. Even without a Capital Budget, Nigeria will probably not be any worse than it already is. Is it not still more disheartening to think that Government exists essentially for the sole purpose of paying salaries and allowances to itself without impacting on the citizenry?
It borders on criminal negligence to be brandishing a capital budget of close to N5 Trillion only to perform slightly above the N1 Trillion mark. They will soon begin to talk of the idea of a Budget roll-over with all its pitfalls. First, the Budget roll-over never gives the exact state of our performance in any Financial Year. Secondly, it is an aberration. For example, per adventure President Muhammadu Buhari becomes a lame-duck, his administration will not have the slightest bite at the 2019 Capital Budget! Imagine that!
Again, why should we be fixated on the budget roll-over when a simple shift in the commencement date is all we need to have a Budget that can be implemented from January 1 to December 31?
The Budget process should kick-start early in March, when the Budget Ministry issues Call Letters asking the Ministries, Departments and Agencies – including the NASS and the Judiciary – to submit their Requests.
Here perhaps lies the ‘CATCH 55’ situation because the NASS will not like to submit those humongous allowances to the public domain at this early stage. It would rather prefer to slot the figures in at the final stage – after the Budget proposals have made their merry-go-round. This is one way of explaining why the Appropriation Bill normally comes out of the NASS fatter than it entered.
In other climes, legislators sharpen their knives to trim down the Executive Requests. But here, the legislators pad the Budget. This walks logic on its head. The situation here can be better appreciated within the context of the micro-family setting: the wife asks for N10,000 to go to the market; and the husband invariably forces N15,000 on her. In real terms, can anyone show me that husband who, even in the best of times, will not cut down his wife’s budget?
The only antidote for late budget is an early start – early to bed, early to rise. When the Appropriation Bill gets late to the NASS, the Appropriation Act will automatically 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.