Presented since November 7, 2017, the 2018 budget estimate has not been passed three weeks to the end of the first quarter, writes Olawale Olaleye
All the promises shown by the early presentation of the 2018 budget appear forlorn, four months after it was laid by President Muhammadu Buhari before a joint session of the National Assembly with the sole aim of regularising the fiscal calendar of January to December. Although since 2016, when Buhari presented his first budget to the National Assembly, it had always ended up in one controversy or the other, thus exposing the traditional no-love-lost between the Executive and Legislature, the 2018 budget however showed more promises than those before it.
Though the early presentation and the comments by the lawmakers, which showed they were impressed and ready to cooperate with the executive in national interest by quickly passing the budget, the prevailing developments however prove otherwise.
The promises earlier held might have taken flight soon after the budget was presented to the parliament. And as it has become public knowledge, the problem with the 2018 budget started with the presentation of the 2018-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) to the Senate, because usually, the tradition is that the submission of the MTEF must precede the budget presentation itself.
The Senate, thus, on December 8, passed the MTEF/FSP and went on to set a December 19 date for its committee on Appropriation to submit the 2018 report for consideration. However, in the MTEF documents passed, the senators pointed out the oil benchmark for the 2018 Budget from the proposed $45 per barrel by the federal government to $47, while daily production was retained at 2.3 million barrel per day, with the exchange rate still at N305 to $1.
As it is, the $47 per barrel approved by the Senate was a dollar higher than the $46 recommended by its joint committee on Finance, Appropriation and National Planning, which worked on the MTEF document. The parameters, therefore, are 2.3million barrel oil production per day, N305 to a US dollar exchange rate, 3.5% GDP growth rate, N5.79trillion projected non-oil revenue and N1.699trillion for new borrowings.
As the debate commenced on the general principles of the budget, it was allegedly discovered during some of the budget defence that Ministries, Departments, Agencies and MDAs were not having documents, while some had alleged padding and duplicated items, just as it was with previous experience.
The Senator John Enoh-led Committee on Finance had queried the federal government’s insistence that the 2018 Budget must be passed in January, when less than 50 per cent of 2017 Budget was implemented.
The Senate, which took a swipe at the government, when the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, appeared before the committee, requested to know why the 2017 Budget had no correlation with the 2018 Budget and insisted that the implementation of the budget would be poorly done because of the size of the country.
The senators, who later took turns to speak on the 2018 Budget across party lines, lampooned the federal government for what it termed its unrealistic estimates. They declared that the N11trillion collectible revenue proposed in the budget could not be met if experiences of previous years were anything to ponder and therefore called for an increase in the oil price benchmark from $45 to $50per barrel.
Not unexpectedly, the Budget Office of the Federation has also come out to debunk claims that the 2018 budget has yet to be passed, because some details required for its passage were not submitted.
Ben Akabueze, Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, said in a statement that media reports suggesting that the FGN 2018 Budget was submitted to the National Assembly without details for some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were inaccurate.
Upon presentation of the budget by Buhari, he claimed the budget already had “all the usual details required by the National Assembly to process the budget,” which according to him, included that of the budgets of all federal MDAs based on the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) budget templates.
“Given the seriousness the Presidency attaches to getting the 2018 budget passed so it could earnestly focus on achieving the goals set out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-20 (ERGP), which formed the basis of the budget, it had directed heads of ministries and extra-ministerial agencies to attend to any requests for meetings/information by the National Assembly (NASS) with dispatch,” he said.
“To the best of our knowledge, this directive has been complied with. Should any committees of NASS still experience any issues with attendance of any MDA, the Minister of Budget & National Planning has indicated that he is available to liaise with the particular MDA to ensure full cooperation with NASS by the relevant MDA,” he added.
Sadly, the current recriminations are typical of the familiar budget controversy year in, year out and may not be quite palatable this time around with the elections lurking in the corner. The very essence of budgeting is to aid planning, which in itself enhances the delivery of good governance.
It is therefore crucial that both the executive and the legislature sit at the table on time before it is not only taken over by politics but overwhelmed by it. There is no doubting the fact that not much can be done in terms of budget implementation in a year like this. It is however important that the little that can be pulled through should not be frittered away on account of muscle-flexing between the two arms.
Expectations are high over the 2018 budget especially in view of the need to boost post recession growth. This is why the issues stalling its quick passage must be addressed urgently.