Another budget of political abracadabra!
The heated debate generated by President Muhammadu Buhari ‘s concern raised over the National Assembly’s upping of the 2018 budget from N8.5 trillion to N9. 12 trillion by the injection of ‘strange’ projects requires a holistic appraisal to find out if indeed, such was done in the national interest. Or, as some people insist, if it came out of sheer greed, self-aggrandizement and pure political mischief. Given the persisting face-off between the executive and the legislative arm of the current All Peoples Congress-led administration and with the 2019 general elections getting closer by the day, the plot playing itself out is not unexpected. Even in the previous years of 2016 and 2017, Nigerians were treated to some political comic strips with accusations of ‘missing budget’ and ‘padded budget’. With the undue delay before this year’s budget was signed into law middle of the year, we do not need any rocket science to understand that the full implementation would be one Herculean task.
In his words, Buhari lamented that the legislature “made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.” Besides, “some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed, and will therefore be difficult to execute.” And he regretted that: “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.” Such sad development has no doubt elicited emotions from some concerned Nigerians, who know that truly when two elephants square up for a bruising battle, the grasses are bound to suffer!
As rightly noted by a civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights, and Accountability Project (SERAP), the National Assembly violated the fundamental rights of Nigerians by cutting the proposed allocations for essential public services, including health, education, housing and security, to the tune of N19.15 billion in the 2018 budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari. The group expressed dismay that the federal lawmakers “padded” the 2018 budget to the tune of N578 billion by inserting 6,403 projects of their own. Similarly, not a few Nigerians keep wondering why the National Assembly should slash N115 billion from capital projects such as the construction of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge, East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project meant to fast track infrastructural development. How justifiable is their action to cut as much as N5 billion from Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment while it raised its(National Assembly) budget from N125 billion to N139.5 billion? What informed such self-serving move?
Still on the controversial alterations, many are piqued by the cutting of as much as N7.45 billion from the health budget and another N8.7 billion from the National Housing Programme by our lawmakers? Certainly, this as well as reducing the budget for security infrastructure in 104 Unity Schools by N3 billion is both inexcusable and unjustifiable. On the other hand, however, some economists have questioned the rationale behind the president’s earmarking a whopping sum of N4 billion to refurbish and secure the United Nation’s building in Abuja, using loans at a time some 20 million citizens are without meaningful jobs and about 140 million Nigerians caught in the terrifying trap of poverty.
And from the perspective of the National Assembly, all the members have done is, according to the Deputy Senate Leader, Alhaji Bala Ibn Na’ Allah a balancing act. Said he: “The job of parliamentarians is a very difficult one. If we had allowed it(the budget) to go that way, we would have been in trouble with those who elected us. You have to balance between the six geo-political zones.” He added that Mister President has proposed to come forward with a supplementary budget, as a result of their observations. Agreed, that there is the rule and the law for the separation of powers which states that the rule of law is the opposite of the rule of power. According to Denise Meyerson, it stands for the supremacy of law over the supremacy of individual will. But to say this is to speak only in the most general of terms. The separation of powers doctrine is also a complex and contested notion.
What matters is that the right thing must be done. SERAP may therefore, have its point by urging President Buhari to move swiftly to enforce the judgment delivered last month by Justice Mohammed Idris in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1821/2017. That is, by ordering him to ask anti-corruption agencies to forward reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget, and to ensure effort prosecution of suspects. “It is the failure to decisively address allegations of padding of the 2016 budget that has allowed the practice to continue with almost absolute impunity.”
On the way forward, one is of the candid opinion that restructuring of the polity would give a breath of fresh air to the recurring face-off between the executive and the legislature over budgetary allocations. Why should the federal government continue to control 56 per cent of the income to the Federation Accounts, with a paltry 24 and 20 per cent to the states and the local government councils, respectively?(1992 No.106. S.I.9 of 2002). Methinks that it makes more economic sense for the states to control much of their resources and pay about 25 per cent tax to the centre. It gives ample room for a more creative, healthy competition. We would be in tandem with reality and do away with the so called Federation
Account , from which many state governors collect monthly allocation but divert much of it to feather their nests.
At the end of all the debate, what is of utmost significance is budgetary performance, that is timely, based on the people’s most pressing needs with their input through their legislators. We have had enough of the annual ritual of the greed-driven altercations that are more political than of economic impact on the people’s quality of life.
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