Fresh N’ Assembly Reform Stipulates Conclusion of Budget Process Every December

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Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

The National Assembly has proposed a budget calendar that will ensure that every budget process begins in July and end in December every year ahead of the commencement of the next fiscal year.

This proposal, which is one of the 15 key reform strategies being proposed by the federal legislature, is designed to commence with the submission of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) by the executive in the second week of July every year while the president is expected to sign the Appropriation Bill into law by third week of December every year.

The reform agenda contained in a report submitted to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, by the Chairman of Technical Committee on the Reform of Budget Process in Nigeria, Senator Ali Ndume, monday, will lead to enactment of laws that provide for development plans by the federal government. Such laws are also proposed to enhance both the presentation and effective implementation of the annual budget.

The report which will soon be subjected to debate on the floor of the Senate, also recommended amendments to some sections of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and extant laws to provide effective legal framework for the take-off of the new budget process including development plans in accordance with international best practices.

The report said the proposed budget process would “revolve around reforming laws and frameworks for budget formulation, enactment and implementation, aligning the budget process to international best practices, strengthening capacities, and institutions for budget formulation and implementation, and strengthening the revenue base for budget implementation.”

The reform proposals as contained in the report will:

* Alter Section 81(1) of the 1999 Constitution and amend Sections 11 and 14 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) to provide for a fixed and realistic budget calendar by which the President will present the budget to the National Assembly by the first week of September, considered and passed by November 30 and assented to by the president by the second week of December.

* Provide legal backing for development plans to serve as basis for the annual budget and ensure continuity of development plans. In this regard, complete the legislative actions initiated for the enactment of laws: “Development Planning Act” and “Project Implementation and Continuity Act”, pending in NASS.

* Amend Sections 13-18 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act to link MTEF with a development plan. Then: have a long term (10-15 years) development plan to be implemented with three year MTEF and Medium-term Sector Strategy (MTSS). National Assembly to support the development plan with a resolution and ensure that the annual budget is linked to it.

* Amend the FRA to enlarge the list of stakeholders to be consulted during the budget preparation process. Then, there should be pre-budget consultation between the legislature and the executive as well as between the executive and the public. And during the budget defence by the MDAs before the committees, relevant stakeholders should be invited.

* Enact an organic budget law that puts together all laws relating to the budget, including a fixed and realistic budget calendar and a pre-budget statement.

* Alter Section 162 of the Constitution recognise saving by the three tiers of government through the Federation Account and provide legal backing for excess revenue savings to enable he country save revenue windfalls and stabilise government expenditure during fiscal crisis.

* Develop a budget manual. The budget manual should include the procedure for public participation in the budget process and public access to budget information during the budget preparation process.

* Amend Section 19 of FRA to include project documents in the list of budget documentation; amend Part III of the FRA to provide for reporting standards and information sharing arrangements.

* Provide effective timelines for monthly and quarterly financial and non-financial reports. Enact a law to compel all MDAs to upload their budget-related information on a dedicated website.

* Develop and publish criteria or methodology for determining the aggregate expenditure estimate and its allocation to sectors and line items. Expand the information content of the Budget Call Circular to include the modalities for public participation in the budget preparation process.

* Develop the capacity of MDAs and other relevant stakeholders to effectively apply the zero-based budgeting technique or any other performance-based technique that may be adopted.
The committee also urged the National Assembly to strengthen the capacity of its committees in the area of budget scrutiny and appraisal by helping members and the staff to undergo training programme on the economy and budget appraisal.