The implementation of the budget should get the country back on the path of growth

Shortly before the 2016 Appropriation Bill was passed by the National Assembly last week, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin described this year’s budget as the most tasking he and other lawmakers had ever encountered. All factors considered, the statement was quite understandable. While we await the details, we must commend members of the appropriation committees in both chambers of the National Assembly for wading through the murky issues and getting the bill passed.

In the budget, the lawmakers retained the benchmark price of $38 per barrel with a crude oil production estimate of 2.2 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N197 to $1, all as proposed by the executive. A breakdown of the budget further reveals statutory transfers of N351,370 billion; debt service,N1,475,320 trillion; recurrent expenditure, N2,646,389 trillion; capital expenditure, N1,587,598, trillion and fiscal deficit of N2,204, 937 trillion. The budget will also run for 12 calendar months, starting from the date it is assented to, in line with Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution.

While analysts have continued to worry over the fundamentals of the 2016 budget and whether it is implementable, given the current revenue profile of the nation, that there is even a document to work with is in itself an achievement. Presented in December last year to the joint session of the National Assembly, the problem with the 2016 budget started with a report that it was “missing” at the Senate! It took a meeting between the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and President Muhammadu Buhari for that controversy to be resolved. Soon, it became the question of having two versions of the budget in circulation and later, about which of the versions was authentic. Again, it took President Buhari’s official letter of apology to end the fuss about having two versions of the 2016 Appropriation Bill.

As it would happen, even that did not end the puzzle. When the various National Assembly committees began to work on the details by inviting heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to defend their proposals, the issue of errors, inconsistencies and over-padding was unearthed. The Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, for instance, literally disowned the version of budget he met with the lawmakers, stating that the figures therein were quite different from what he submitted. Almost every other minister would discover huge discrepancies between what they claimed they budgeted and the figures before the lawmakers.

Taking responsibility, President Buhari fired the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Alhaji Yahaya Gusau, and replaced him with Alhaji Tijjani Abdullahi. While that helped in dousing the controversy, now that the 2016 budget has been passed, sufficient lessons must be learned. It is also important, as the National Assembly has suggested, that the proposals be submitted on time. But there are critical issues that we cannot gloss over.
Even though it is something that predates the current administration, it is still a scandal that a nation that aspires to be among the 20 most industrialised countries in the world spends most of its annual budget on recurrent items some of which have been identified as: procurement and maintenance of generating sets in government offices; purchase of vehicles for public officers which in itself bastardises the monetisation policy; high wages and questionable allowances for political office holders; payments for non-existing (ghost) workers; unnecessary duplication of job schedules and responsibilities in the public service and continuous leakages in the bureaucracy, etc.

It is therefore our hope that in the preparation for the 2017 budget, there will be a greater attention to detail so that we can, by next year, put some of these unfortunate developments behind us. Budget must begin to make meaning in Nigeria.