By Hon. Josef Omorotionmwan
Just this time around, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Administration deserves a deodorant for the half measures it has taken towards inching closer to its set objective of returning to the Budget Cycle of January – December.
Like other regimes before it, the Buhari Administration had attempted to remain glued to the provisions of Section 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended: “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each Financial Year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following Financial Year”. Some hurriedly threw the Estimates into the National Assembly in the dying days of December.
Following the old cliché of “early to bed, early to rise,” these budget that went to bed in late December also rose late as they received legislative approval around June of the following year – half way through the Financial Year for which they were intended. The Buhari Administration has been striving to make a difference. The 2019 Appropriation Bill was presented to the National Assembly in November 2018. The National Assembly galloped through it and it was approved in May 2019.
The journey has started but we are still far from the mark. We see the leadership of the National Assembly trying to stampede itself into doing a shoddy job. They must make haste slowly! Barring rubber-stamping the Executive submission, we see an Appropriation Bill that will be passed late February or early March – two to three months into the 2020 Financial Year.
The Federal Government attitude to budgeting is reminiscent of what we observed very early in life. Our Elementary School, Saint Thomas Catholic School, Oghada, was in a rural setting. Before the advent of the Second Republic when the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, Administration attempted to plant schools in every community, the catchment area of Saint Thomas spanned across the entire Oghada Community and its environ, all within 4 kilometres radius, except that some pupils came from Isievbe and Okhuokhuo Communities – some 8 kilometres away.
From that time, we observed an inverse relationship between proximity to school and punctuality – those who lived afar were punctual to school while those who lived in the immediate vicinity to the school were the late comers. At the sound of the first bell around 7a.m., the distant pupils hurried to school and they arrived early. The nearly pupils had a mindset that, after all, they were close to the school. They ignored the first bell and at the sound of the second and final bell around 8 a.m., they were still summarizing the activities around the eba meal. They hurried to school but they were already late. They got the cane and other punishment thereto appertaining.
This aspect of human behaviour deserves further clinical studies and research. It gets transferred to the national life. How else do we explain a situation where we have a permanent budget office and Ministry whose is to prepare a national budget; and while it has the entire 12 months of the year to carry out this responsibility but it waits till the eighth month before beginning to run around in circles to present a late budget? We search, but in vain, for the reason for this action. What preoccupation does the Budget Ministry have between January and August each year?
Where there is no law; the people perish for lawlessness. We have maintained, perhaps with monotonous regularity, that in other climes, there are Acts governing the Budget preparation Cycle on the basis of which we have suggested the following draft upon which the National Assembly can improve in giving us An Act For A Budget Cycle:
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.
At a time like this, a write-up of this nature cannot go without at least a passing observation on the just-submitted Appropriate Bill. The Estimates have been severally parroted as possessing the following main features: Total Appropriation N10.33 Trillion; Recurrent N4.88 Trillion; Debt Servicing N2.45 Trillion, Capital N2.14 Trillion.
All eyes are focused on the provision for Debt Servicing. Evidently, there is nothing wrong with borrowing but two things must constantly agitate the mind of a good borrower: first, he must plan to repay the loan at maturity. Secondly the loan must be utilized for a productive end. After all, most viable projects the world over are based on borrowed money.
However a budget that relegates Capital Expenditure to a distant third – after Recurrent Expenditure and Debt Servicing is a sleeping budget. With a total lack of development initiative, our budget simply shows that government exists to service debts and pay humongous salaries and allowances to itself.
More so, while the Recurrent and Debt Servicing Budgets perform at close to 100 percent level, the Capital Budget hardly limps across the 13 percentage level as Capital funds are hardly released. In essence, out of the provision of N2.14 Trillion for Capital, less than N1 Trillion will be released!
When will BIG BROTHER stop embarrassing itself with this absurdity of existing for debt servicing and paying itself humongous salaries and allowances? Any wonder, then, that nothing works – even the payment of salaries?
We have not seen the end of the 2020 Appropriations yet. The National Assembly will certainly shoot for the N11 Trillion mark. Nigeria is a peculiar country. In other climes, the Estimates submitted by the Executive normally comes out of the Legislature slimmer than it went in. in those places, they talk of giving the Legislature something to cut. Some provisions are deliberately over-bloated so that enough will be left after the legislatures scissors are through.
In Nigeria, the Appropriations come out of the legislature fatter than they went in. One major factor that accounts for this is the nebulous Constituency Project, which shoots up the Expenditure side of the budget without any consideration as to how to get the corresponding Revenue for its execution.
It gets worse some times. On occasions, the National Assembly simply yanked off large sums from some important projects such as the Second Niger Bridge; and apply such sums to their flimsy borehole and pepper grinding machine constituency projects. Quite often, these distortions are scattered all over the budget, thus resulting in undue delays in putting them together.
Our budgeting process still remains largely a science of dabbling through!
Will these absurdities ever end?