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Budgeting for failure?


Haba! What we now wake up to hear is this noise about President Buhari’s fight with Saraki and his people over the 2018 budget. Customers are not here, so even eating is becoming difficult. Ikem, a vehicle spare parts dealer at the popular Ladipo market in Lagos had quipped when one of his friends, Jude, who just relocated to Ghana in search of better place to do business, asked him how his business is doing in Nigeria.

Even before the lingering bickering between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government over the 2018 Appropriation Bill assumed its latest cacophonic dimension, , we had titled our last May edition ‘Budget In Crisis’ given the delayed passage of the Appropriation Bill and more illustratively the incongruous provisions to various sectors which, from all practical analysis perspective, make the attainment of the key targets of the Bill not feasible.

Yes, some analysts have said that Nigeria’s budgetary processes since 1999 had not been devoid of acrimonious banters between the two arms of government, but never in the history of budgeting has this type of grandstanding on the passage of Appropriation Bill between the Executive and the Legislature been witnessed.

The past few days of the executive-legislative intrigues over the 2018 Appropriation Bill, the most crucial fiscal document to the welfare of millions of ordinary Nigerians within the context of democratic governance, paint a saddening picture of key political gladiators in a theatre of the absurd, who invariably have nothing to lose even if the budget’s implementation is delayed for the whole year.

Or put differently, what will the lawmakers, despite their pretentious claims that they represent ordinary Nigerians and the political appointees in the Executive lose if the Nigerian roads are in bad shape or the health facilities become just ‘consulting clinics’ if their ongoing face-off over the budget is sustained for another half of the year?

One of the analysts who commented on the May edition copy on the delayed budget had noted then that “as we speak now, expectations on the performance of the budget have sagged, especially when the Appropriation Bill had been submitted to the National Assembly by the President in November last year. That is about six months ago. It is most unlikely that some key targets of the capital expenditure will be achieved even when they say the that the implementation of the budget will be extended to May next year.”

The question we need to interrogate in the current crisis of political leadership which has taken some more vitriolic trend in the past three years of the APC-led government is: to what extent have this ‘yearly political rituals’ between the Executive and National Assembly helped in national development within the context of poverty alleviation, job creation, infrastructure asset consolidation, healthcare delivery and education standard?

Apparently surprised at the level of adjustments made by the National Assembly to the allocations to various expenditures items proposed in the Bill submitted by him last November, President Muhammadu Buhari, had last week expressed concern over the action, claiming that the adjustments were unnecessary and that if implemented with the irregularities, the key targets of the capital expenditure would be missed.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, on Friday declared that with the provisions made for the projects proposed by the National Assembly in the 2018 budget, there was no need for the “distortion” carried out by the Legislature since adequate provisions had been made for some of the demands of the LegislatureThe Presidency made the declaration in its reaction to the defence put up by the National Assembly on earlier that day over the outrage expressed by President Muhammadu Buhari on the changes made to the budget.

The Legislature argued that it had right to make inputs into the document and that the changes were to correct the imbalance noticed in the document as presented by the Presidency.

The lawmakers, in a joint statement signed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media & Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and his House of Representatives’ counterpart, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, had claimed, inter alia, that adjustments and reductions in the locations, costs and number of projects approved were made in order to address geopolitical imbalances that came with the Executive proposal.

They stated: “The introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of Federal Character as contained in Section 14, subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which states that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria…”

“The number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geopolitical zone of the country to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command National loyalty”, the lawmakers added.

Reacting to the unfolding Executive-Legislature disagreements over the 2018 budget, a civil society advocate and Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, noted that controversy arising from the passage of the 2018 federal budget on the respective roles of the executive and legislative arms of government in the budgeting process presents an opportunity for learning and progress.

He, however, pointed out that in order to turn the opportunities into national development values there was need for improved relationship between the two arms of government on budgeting since there exist constitutional provisions and frameworks, including the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the Medium Term Sector Strategies (MTSS) and the Project Implementation and Continuity Bill proposed by Vision: 20:2020, that should guide them in the entire process to achieve improved performance of yearly federal budgets.

He said: The executive and legislature need to cooperate, collaborate and work on the same page if we are to get a development-oriented budget either at the federal or state level. The federal budget neither belongs to the executive nor the legislature; it is the budget of the people of Nigeria.

“So, the idea that the executive owns the budget simply because they produce policy, prepare the financial estimates or implement the budget misses the point. On the other hand, any claim of absolute powers of the legislature in the budget-making process stands logic on its head”, Onyekpere added.

Miffed by the controversies trailing the budget passage over the past seven months, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, last Thursday described the debate as nothing but a proof of leadership ineptitude in the country.

While recalling the prolonged controversies that had trailed the Bill over the past seven months, pointed out that the blame game smacked of lack of leadership to make the budgetary process efficient and effective in serving the people of Nigeria
Moghalu, identified the putative “constitutional power of appropriation” claimed by the National Assembly as the root of President Buhari’s complaint and urged the executive to lay the controversy to rest by seeking judicial interpretation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), on the power of the National Assembly to alter the yearly appropriation bill.

He pointed out that “if the power is legally valid, then effective collaboration between the executive and the legislature on the yearly budgets becomes imperative.”

Another analyst and observer of the ongoing debate between the executive and the legislature over the re-tweaking of the budgetary provisions of the budget, Henry Boyo, noted that while the President’s assent to the 2018 budget with just six months left for full implementation of the critical infrastructure projects had the potential of resulting in slip-shod execution, the bickering showed that the political leaders hadn’t learnt any lessons from past mistakes in the budgetary process.

Boyo, an Economist and Managing Director of Cocosheen Nigeria Limited, explained that such apparently self-serving budget amendments are not new and they have also characterised Buhari’s budgets since 2016.

He clarified: “What is surprising, however, is that no lesson seems to have been learnt and it will not be a surprise if these same allegations similarly trail the 2019 budget.

“Nonetheless, the issues of inchoate, ‘tweaked’ or bloated budgets will probably become minimized, if the budgeting process commences early in Q2 with clearly defined schedules for regular consultations between the executive and the legislature to appropriate within the explicit framework earlier captured in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, and government’s expectations, which are already expressed in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”, Boyo stressed.

To a leading entrepreneur and youth empowerment expert, Dr Nicholas Okoye, the lingering crisis is nothing peculiar to Nigeria as the budgeting processes globally are usually characterized by Executive-Legislature interactions as defined by constitutional provisions on the matter.

Okoye, who is the CEO of Anabel Group, pointed out that the roles of the two arms of government are clearly defined by the constitution hence the usual ‘frictions’ which, in all intents and purposes, are expected to enable the two arms agree on what best suits the interests of the citizenry and the nation in terms of final appropriation of funds to critical sectors.

He explained: “The legislative arm of Government must approve the budget proposals of the executive, this is the law. And as is the case with all approving authorities, you may decide to adjust the proposal you are approving to suit the interest of your stakeholders, in this case, the stakeholders are the Nigerian nation or the Nigerian people.

“In my opinion, the budget approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the President has the power of law to run for one full calendar year. This means that if the budget has been signed by the President on the 19th of June 2018 then it should run till the 18th of June 2019”, the skills development expert added.

However, Okoye pointed out that in order to optimize the performance of the budget in view of the recent experiences in the budget legislation in Nigeria, there is the need “to adjust our financial year to suit the dates in which the budgets come into effect.”

As the Executive-Legislature tantrums over the 2018 budget appear set to take new twists and analytical dimensions as preparations for the 2019 elections become more heightened among the political leaders in the divide, most analysts of the ‘budgeting war’ believe that with just six months to year end, the 2018 capital budget is bound to fail in most critical areas of need and targets.

But then, they all agree that even when there are no concrete proofs to justify its claim, the government will most likely, as had been the case over the years, reel out statistical data to prove the ‘impressive’ performance of the budget at the end of the year.