N’Assembly Extends 2017 Budget to May 31

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• Sets new performance index for public enterprises
•Saraki pushes for more funding in health, education
•We won’t abandon constituency projects, Dogara vows

Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo in Abuja

Following the continued delay in the passage of the 2018 budget and its attendant consequences on the economy, the National Assembly on Tuesday said it has written the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to extend the implementation of the  2017 budget to May 31.

Ideally, the 2017 budget implementation ought to close by March 31, 2018.
But the  Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Hon.  Mustapha Bala Dawaki, said the attention of the AGF had on Monday been drawn “to the fact that the budget should be extended to May 31,” adding that if the passage of the budget as at April 24 is done and gets the president’s assent, whichever comes earlier, then the accountant general should also strictly adhere to the contents of the letter.”

The lower chamber has set April 24 for passage of the Appropriation Act which was presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly in December last year.
Speaking at the opening of the  second National Budget Hearing on the 2018 Appropriation, Dawaki therefore, urged contractors to “continue working as budget account would not be closed until budget is passed and accepted by the president or until May 31, 2018.”

This came as the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, further insisted that the executive arm must accompany the 2018 budget proposal with a Finance Bill in order to show clarity and enhance policy inconsistencies.
He said: “It is also observable that non-oil revenue performances have been impacted by policy inconsistencies and leakages. Thus, in addition to our call for improved systems and processes to plug revenue leakages, we had required that the 2018 budget proposal be accompanied by a 2018 Finance Bill (which has so far not been received by the National Assembly).

“Let me therefore use this opportunity to, once again, emphasise the need for the Finance Bill. We want government to show clarity and consistency in its policies and to see how these will square up to its financial projections for 2018.”
He also said the parliament would prioritise human capital development and give attention to critical health, education and soft infrastructure in the 2018 spending.
Saraki further stressed the need to make patronage of locally manufactured goods a key concern for government going forward.

He said: “Furthermore, we must ensure an adherence to the one per cent resolution to health. This requires the Basic Health Fund to be funded by one per cent of the Consolidated National Fund. This funding, which amounts to N86 billion, has yet to be committed. When the Speaker and I met with Bill Gates last week, the emphasis was on health, and it is something we should take very seriously indeed, especially as the one per cent resolution would go a long way in boosting basic maternal and child health immunisation services as well as local and rural community health in this country.”

The senate president added: “In addition, there is the need to ensure real value-for-money in government spending as well as prioritise spending on locally made goods. The Made-in-Nigeria initiative, with particular regard to government procurements, is already the thrust of a significant law passed by the 8th National Assembly – and which has the added advantage of helping to revamp our industrial base. This is one sure way of creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, encouraging private sector partnerships and creating jobs, especially for the youth.”
Saraki also hinted that the National Assembly would work to set new performance standards for government corporations as well as developing stronger oversight frameworks to improve performance in independent revenues.

According to him, “We are concerned about government-owned enterprises whose operating surpluses have always been significantly lower than projections. Invariably, over the years, the performance of independent revenues has fallen short by at least 50 per cent. While we work towards setting new performance standards for government corporations as well as developing stronger oversight frameworks to improve performance in independent revenues, we do expect more realistic projections of corporations operating surpluses.”

Also speaking at the two-day budget hearing, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, vowed that no amount of blackmail from any quarters will force the National Assembly to abandon zonal intervention projects because it is the tool with which they ensure equity in project allocation nationwide.

He said even though the instrumentality of zonal intervention projects has been grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned, it does not change the fact that it has brought development across all federal constituencies and federal presence to remote and forgotten areas in the country.

The Speaker said: “Over the years, the efforts of legislators, especially at the National Assembly to inject equity in budget patronage nationwide through the instrumentality of zonal intervention projects has been grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned mostly by those who are deliberately ignorant and have concocted their own concept of constituency projects which they apply as their yardstick of measurement.

“I make bold to state that, but for zonal intervention projects, many communities in Nigeria would never have enjoyed any form of federal government patronage. Put differently, zonal intervention projects represent the only evidence of Federal government presence in most rural communities of Nigeria.

“Consequently, as representatives of the people, no amount of blackmail from any quarters will force us to abandon our resolve to ensure even development across all federal constituencies.”
He urged  Nigerians who are showing more interest in the budget making process, to pay greater attention to the implementation of approved budget and not the size as only effective budget implementation determines its quality.

He said: “Demand strict accountability from all elected officials on this matter. Jacob Lew captured the issue succinctly when he said: ‘The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.’  The citizen must therefore insist on the total realisation of these values and aspirations rather than merely the collection of figures.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the  Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe, APC),  said the joint committee is inundated with petitions, complaints and observations, including recommendations to delete frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful estimates in the 2018 budget of many ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs).
He said the committee would consider the claims with the deserved attention they merit.