Budget 2013: Can Parliament, Civil Society Make a Difference?

20 May 2012

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Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo  Iweala

The 2013 budget is expected to be presented to the National Assembly in September and already, a flurry of activities has been initiated inside and outside the parliament. In this report, Onwuka Nzeshi asks if this would make much of a difference in the budget’s thrust and implementation

Not quite two months after the 2012 Appropriation Act came into being, President Goodluck Jonathan announced that the 2013 Appropriation Bill will be presented to the National Assembly by September of the current year. This news, though cheery, is at best a statement of intent by the executive arm to comply with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.

Under the law, the president is required to present the budget at least by the end of the third quarter of every fiscal year. The essence is to give the National Assembly ample time to consider and pass the budget before the end of the year. By implication, where the budget gets to the parliament in November or December, as has been the case in the last couple of years, is actually in breach of the law. Interestingly, the two chambers of the National Assembly have swung into action to prepare ahead of the planned presentation of next year’s national  budget in about  four months time.

Just the same, civil society organisations have been picking holes in the current budget and demanding their inclusion and more transparency in the budgeting process. In particular, they have an axe to grind with the National Assembly over their perceived exclusion from the process, bloated allocations to the legislature and glaring wastage identified in the 2012 budget.
Lower Chamber  Girds its Loins

In the area of budget implementation, the House of Representatives has commissioned an audit of capital projects which the country has embarked on in the past twelve years. The lower chamber of parliament has directed all its 89 standing committees to conduct an audit of all ongoing projects in the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) under their purview. The exercise is expected to be completed in the next 60 days and a report submitted on the findings.

The House has also asked the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim, to submit a copy of the  Bunu Sherrif Committee Report on abandoned federal  projects within two weeks. These resolutions followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by the deputy leader of the House Hon. Leo Ogor (PDP/Delta) on the need to verify capital projects executed by MDAs of government across the nation since 1999.

In the lead debate, Ogor stated that the National Assembly has appropriated trillions of naira to the Federal Government MDAs for capital projects and towards the infrastructure development of the nation since 1999 till date. He lamented that in spite of these huge allocations, there was still a dearth of infrastructure across the length and breadth of Nigeria, an indication that these funds may not have been utilised effectively over the years.

He warned that unless the House took urgent measures to halt the trend, these MDAs would continue to serve as conduit pipes on the nation’s resources. The motion was supported by a cross section of the lawmakers, including Hon. Bamidele Opeyemi (ACN/Ekiti), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa (ACN-Lagos), Hon. Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi (PDP-Enugu), Hon. Toby Okechukwu (PDP/Enugu) as well as Hon.Ahmed Datti (CPC-Kaduna), among others.

Chairman House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Zakari Mohammed explained that the project was aimed at developing a data bank because no development can be achieved without an accurate data bank. “Abandonment of projects, as unanimously agreed by our colleagues is like flouting financial regulations and of course in adopting it, as observed by a number of our colleagues that we have to, more than ever before, strengthen our oversight functions.

“So we expect that the reports would come, and that would include the Bunu Report from the executive. Part of the prayers is that Secretary to the Government of the Federation would avail us that report. We will fuse these reports together in preparation for 2013, so that when the budget is brought in, we will know where to pick holes rather than going on a wild goose chase,” Mohammed said.

…The Senate Too
The Senate has also bought into the new thinking of the executive arm of government on the need to submit the budget on time. The upper chamber of the parliament agrees with President Jonathan on the proposed September date for the presentation of the 2013 Appropriation Bill.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Ahmed Maccido, told newsmen that the National Assembly has concluded plans to establish its own budget office. Maccido may have been referring to the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO), which was championed during the sixth session of the House of Representatives.

The Senate has also resolved to embark on a tour of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria. The tour which is billed to hold in October would enable lawmakers and other stakeholders to make their input into the 2013 budget. “We are going to push the executive so much that the 2013 budget must get to us, the National Assembly, latest by September so that we work right through October, November and by December, the country will get a new budget. Three months, I believe, is enough for us to work on the budget and return it to the executive for assent. That is our plan for the 2013 budget and we do hope things would go according to plan.

“For 2013, Nigerians should be rest assured that at the committee level, we have made arrangements to go from point A to point B; everyday, we would monitor monies that have been appropriated and make sure that they are being spent judiciously. There was been a lull in the sense that we came in and there was no provision for the programme in the 2011 budget. The inclusive budgeting process where the National Assembly, interacted with the public stopped with the sixth National Assembly but we intend to re-activate that soon.

“We have to start a new one altogether. In fact, we just got approval for that particular programme in the 2012 budget. By October, we will commence the process. We are going out by the first week of October, to bring together all stakeholders in Nigeria, where we will sit down, discuss and deliberate on their input. We will get their views on the 2012 budget and hear what they expect in the 2013 budget. We will start that by October,” Maccido promised.

President of the Senate, David Mark also recently asked senators to take their oversight responsibilities seriously in 2012 in order to curb corruption in the system. Maccido said that the standing committees were now poised to oversight the release of funds appropriated to the MDAs to ensure the prudent use of public resources.

“We are going to monitor releases to MDAs, whether there is cash backing for those releases or not. We have a very weak constitution on oversight but this time around, we intend to be much more vigorous in this respect. Truly, there has been very ineffective oversight of the MDAs and our inefficiency in oversight results in corruption and ineptitude on the part of the executive because we don't report on them. It brings about so many ills,” Maccido said.

Civil Society Concerns
However, the civil society has an axe to grind to grind with the National Assembly. They are aggrieved over their perceived exclusion from the budgeting process, bloated allocations to the legislature and the wastage identified in the 2012 budget.

In a recent assessment of the 2012 budget, civil society organisations under the aegis of the Citizens Wealth Platform (CWP), carpeted the executive and the legislature over the seeming absence of national priorities in the budget. CWP is an umbrella body of non-governmental and faith based groups, professional associations and other citizens groups dedicated to ensuring that public resources are made to work and is of benefit to all.

In a detailed critique of the 2012 budget, CWP gave examples of what it said were the priorities of the government of the day as gleaned from the coalition's scrutiny of the current budget. Samples of the warped priorities identified in the budget and captured by the group include: Priority 1: National Assembly awarded itself N150 billion without any details known to the public on how it was going to be spent. Priority 2: Presidency to spend N805.8 million on food, refreshments and meals; N481.2 million for welfare (not salaries and perks of office); N356.7 million for 1,000 sets of crested wares (plates); N230.1 million for the acquisition, upgrade and furnishing of the vice president’s guest house and N207.1 million for extension of VP’s lounge at Aguda House and furnishing of Aguda House; and N162 million for watering of lawns and landscaping.

Priority 3: Ministry of Finance to spend N311.8 million for welfare packages, N260.9 million for refreshment and meals; N84.9 million for security vote; N70 million for cleaning and fumigation. Priority 4: Ministry of Petroleum Resources to spend N126 million for spectacle advances and N17.2 million for the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Bill, which is yet to be presented to the National Assembly. Priority 5: N80 million for Head of Service to design a roadmap for implementation of Freedom of Information Act.

The CWP also believes that some aspects of the 2012 budget were deliberately made misleading to the public. Under this category, the coalition stated, the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) was allocated billions for poverty reduction without specific activities attached to them. In one of the instances, the poverty alleviation programme for Cross River Central Senatorial District was allocated the sum of N222 million without any further explanations.

In another instance, CWP said, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was allocated the sum of  N26.8 billion for  items like “seed, seeds, seedlings, improved seeds, seeds dressing, fertilizer, herbicide, fungicide, agrochemicals” without  providing  any  allocations for a majority of its projects. Similarly, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources was allotted N199.9 million for facilities and equipment for capacity development; another N169.4 million for facilities for technical/administrative cooperation with international bodies on oil and gas development and utilization.

Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Mr. Eze Onyekpere said the ambiguity in these provisions was that the capacity development was not specific in terms of the beneficiaries and the equipment was not clearly identified while the facilities required for technical and administrative cooperation was also not named.

“Imagine how many new furnished classrooms, litres of clean water, additional megawatts of electricity, kilometers of smooth tarred roads, quality drugs in our hospitals that these frivolities would have paid for. We want to remind Mr. President and the National Assembly that the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of government and we demand an inclusive budget that provides for the welfare of all and not a selected few. Frivolous expenditures must be reduced; deliberately confusing votes must be clarified and the National Assembly should publish its detailed budget,” Onyekpere admonished.

The Challenge
The reason for this high level of interest on the budget is not far-fetched. The budget is said to be the single most important bill in any fiscal year both for the parliament, which appropriates it, and the executive that deploys the funds to projects and programmes. It is also very important to the civil society, the alternate representatives of the people.

This convergence of interests makes the budget a contentious document any time, any day. As it stands, both the executive and the parliament seem to be on the move and appear less concerned about the observations made by the civil society coalition on the 2012 budget.

On the other hand, the Centre for Social Justice and other affiliates of the Citizens Wealth Platform do not have much to cheer about the presidential promise of an early budget and the razzmatazz going on in the National Assembly. The fact is that until there is a new and prudent attitude towards the management of the country’s resources there would always be a divergence of opinions and mutual suspicion over the national budget. Otherwise, the budget will remain an opaque document in the eyes of the public for as long as the government continues to ignore what should have been the priorities of the economy.

In the mean time, Nigerians will have to wait and see what difference these efforts would have on the budgeting process in the long run.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Budget 2013

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