Resolving the Budget 2016 impasse
The major issue for discussion today is the impasse, or if you like, the gridlock that has stalled the approval of Budget 2016 which was sent to the President for his signature after both chambers of the National Assembly had harmonised their views on the Budget on April 7, 2016. It is on record that the President sensibly refused to append his signature on such a matter which had proven so contentious without the details of the Budget. In your quiet moments you cannot but wonder why the Budget should be sent without the details and some people entertain the expectations that it would be signed as it is claimed that it is the procedure and that any matters arising would be taken up thereafter may be via the instrumentality of a supplementary Budget! In the light of what is now currently being revealed with regard to what extent the Budget had been doctored, some people have gone to town with the claim of conspiracy theory that the Budget was sent in the first place to deliberately hoodwink and stampede the Executive into signing the document to achieve obvious goals. And the language of engagement had suddenly terribly deteriorated. The Executive has been accused of being largely uninformed of the budget processes and procedures and uncoordinated to a large extent while the National Assembly had been accused of Budget padding to achieve ulterior goals and objectives.
It is reported that the capital Budget of the Code of Conduct Tribunal was increased by N4 billion while its recurrent expenditure was also increased by N224 million which as it has been claimed is to compromise the Tribunal in its efforts to prosecute the Senate President. Another surprising allegation is that out of the N5 billion budget proposed for 38 capital projects in the Ministry of Communication, N3.6 billion was allocated by the Appropriation Committee to NIGCOMSAT and even then for the training requirements for the proposed NIGCOMSAT-2 for which funding is still being looked for. The budget for the replacement of stocks for major health-related programmes was removed and instead transferred without any solicitation for the purchase of ambulance just as similarly the amount voted for road maintenance was transferred for the construction of new roads which had not been subjected to feasibility studies. The project that caused the loudest controversy was the issue of the coastal Calabar to Lagos rail line which the Ministry of Transport claims it included in the budget but the National Assembly demurred and has asked for a supplementary budget instead insisting that there is no going back on what it has approved. What is alarming is that the counterpart funding for the Kano-Lagos rail line was not only retained but surreptitiously augmented. There were many other alleged alterations to the budget estimates proposed by the Executive but we would not allow that to delay us here any longer.
This scenario has perennially raised the question who has responsibility for the preparation of the National Budget? Hear Abdulmumuni Jubril the Chairman of House Committee on Appropriation as he claims through his tweeter handle: ‘The National Assembly has the power to allocate, re-allocate, remove, add, increase, reduce or retain revenue and expenditure heads. Afterwards, what is submitted by the Executive is only an estimate.’ You will therefore be inclined to ask why then should the NA not simply prepare the Budget for the country for the Executive to implement and save the country all the hassle?
My understanding of Appropriation is to give authority to proceed with the Budget and not to misconstrue giving authority as a licence to produce an entirely new budget. I conducted a search and this is what I found: ‘In government, appropriation is authorisation by an Act of Parliament to permit government agencies to incur obligations and pay for them from the Treasury. It does not mean actual setting aside of cash, but represents prescribed limits of spending within a specified period.’ There is no doubt that the Executive which has the mandate of the electorate to cause an improvement in the quality of their lives through the implementation of its policies and programmes as advertised pre-elections has the responsibility for the preparation of the annual budget. It is not advisable to contest this prerogative with the Executive as it would appear to be the case in the current situation.
I have been on record to have severally recommended as this problem continued to rear its ugly head that there might be the need to seek judicial interpretations on this matter to commence a process of drawing boundaries with regard to who should do what with Budget preparation. And such a review should interrogate the procedure whereby Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government troupe to the National Assembly to defend their respective budget submission which must have been previously harmonised by the Executive to achieve its intended goals and objectives. This is the window that tempts the government organs to lobby the National Assembly for an increase to the allocation already made by the Executive. Eminent legal scholars have expressed the opinion that the Legislature in performing its Appropriation function could be allowed to reduce but not increase the total Budget figure; which resonates with common sense as such approach would result in surplus which is eminently easier to manage.
The Executive was lethargic with the timely presentation of the Budget estimates. The Fiscal Responsibility Act recommends that submission should ideally be made not later than the end of the second quarter of the year. But the estimates were submitted on December 22, 2016 which was then considered a feat as the ministers only assumed duty in November 2016. The Legislature, on the other hand, had tended to play politics with the Appropriation process. The agony in the land with the current situation of lack of reliable electricity supply to which has been added difficulties of buying petrol and increase in the level price level across board had worsened the misery index in the land. And this administration must appreciate the fact that it is time to buckle up as it has effectively two more years before it faces the electorate to account for the mandate it received and therefore it in its interest that the lingering crisis regarding this Appropriation is resolved amicably and with dispatch.
• Dr. Chizea wrote from Lagos.
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