Budget delays: ‘We can’t get it right with wrong timing’

President Muhammadu Buhari (C) presenting copies of the 2017 budget documents to the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 14, 2016.

• 2017 Budget May Become Law Tomorrow

As usual, lamentations, angst and lost opportunities have hallmarked the implementation of 2016 capital votes estimated at about N1.5trillion, with stakeholders saying the country cannot grow the economy that way.

This is as civil society groups and experts are unanimous in their condemnation of the prolonged process of preparation, presentation and passage of the fiscal plan into law.

Presently, capital votes’ disbursements indicate a shortfall of about N300 billion, a development that has again left expected growth and developmental aspirations accruing from its implementation unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, there are assurances that the 2017 budget may be signed into law tomorrow or Tuesday, in spite of fears expressed in some quarters to that effect.

Even though the National Assembly cleared the air on the controversial description of Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, as one to “coordinate” the nation’s affairs by President Muhammadu Buhari, while he attends to his health challenges abroad, some still doubt whether the former would go ahead with signing the budget.

However, the National Assembly Liaison Officer to Buhari (House of Representatives), Kawu Abdulrahman Sumaila, told The Guardian that the budget would be passed into law, “As soon as possible, say by Monday or Tuesday.”

Speaking on the importance of budget to economic development, an entrepreneur and Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, said its early passage helps businesses to put up their own plans in time.

“What the budget does is to release a lot of money and boost economic activities in the system when it is approved, and the spending facilitates general activities one way or the other. What we pray for is to have a system where our budget kicks in as early as it can in the year, so that we can get the full benefits of the economic plan for the year. That would be great for economy, because a lot of things are held up until it is approved,” Awosika said.

On his part, Idris Miliki, a Director at the Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, said it was condemnable that several administrations in the country have failed to put an end to continuous budget delays.

Although he said there was an improvement in the level of disbursements compared to past years, he pointed out that various agencies are now left with the task of proving with evidence, what they have succeeded in implementing.

“Every year, we must carry over some projects and disbursements, but the recurrent expenditure will be fully drawn down. This is mostly because we do not start on time. The blame should go to the executive that does not know what to do, and the right time to do. Lawmakers find time to observe their breaks, but if they are articulate, they can beat their break and make meaningful progress,” he said.

Similarly, Lead Director at Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, said while the passage of the budget by the National Assembly (NASS) is a welcome development, it is important to know that it is also coming five months after the estimates were submitted by the president.

“The late approval is neither the best practice nor is it worthy of replication. It provides the experience for lawmakers to say ‘never again’ for late budget approval. Conscientious and hardworking lawmakers would not need more than two months to finish the consideration of the federal budget. It will amount to perpetuating abnormality if the NASS also insists, like it did in 2016, that the 2017 budget runs for 12 consecutive
months,” he said, adding that “nothing different from the usual will come out.”

However, the Finance Ministry affirmed that in 2016, it disbursed N1.2 trillion of the planned capital vote, with roads, power, housing, rail, upgrading of some airports, water supply and dams taking their full share, despite starting late.

A source in the ministry told The Guardian that a full unit at the Ministry of Budget Planning is already set to verify and monitor claims of the disbursements.

In a related development, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has applauded the decision of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, to release details of NASS’ budget, for the first time in our recent democratic history.

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi, noted that by breaking from the tradition of secrecy that shrouded the finances of the NASS, the APC-led National Assembly has demonstrated its commitment to an open and
accountable leadership.

“Perhaps, more importantly, by this action, the leadership of the National Assembly has demonstrated that they are in tune with the yearnings of
Nigerians for a transparent and open government.

“We are confident that by this unprecedented action, the National Assembly has taken a major step forward in improving its estimation in the eyes of all citizens,” it noted.

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