Dealing With the Budget Principles

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President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday presented the 2020 Budget estimate to the joint sitting of the National Assembly, which has immediately commenced debate on the bill meant to return the budget cycle to January to December, report Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale

All appears set to return the nation’s budget cycle to January to December from the current May to June order. This is evident from the early submission of 2020 Appropriation Bill to the two chambers of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, October 8 unlike in the past, when the annual budget estimates were usually turned in by the Executive few days to the Christmas vacation of the federal lawmakers.

Specifically, the 2018 and 2019 budget proposals were laid before the legislators on November 7 and December 19 respectively thereby delaying the passage of the budget by four months or thereabout as the case may be.

No one can forget the fact that there was no love lost between the Executive and the leadership of the Eighth National Assembly leading to unnecessary delay in the passage of the Appropriation Bills and even executive bills.

So, it was a completely new game with the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly on June 11, as the leadership of the Assembly expressed its readiness to work with the Executive towards moving the nation to the desired next level.

This much was demonstrated in July, when the Senate postponed its annual vacation by one week to screen and approve all the 41 ministerial nominees forwarded to it by President Buhari as well as in September, when the two chambers of the legislature within one week considered and approved the 2020-2022 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) draft forwarded to the legislature for approval by President Buhari.

The coast thereafter became clear for the President to present the 2020 Budget proposal, which he did last Tuesday. President Buhari presented N10.33trillion budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year as the country strives to return the budget cycle from January to December.

The 2020 appropriation tagged, ‘Budget of Sustaining Growth and Job Creation’, was accompanied with a Finance Bill for the consideration of the lawmakers. The president also commended members of the National Assembly for their avowed commitment to cooperate with the executive to accelerate the pace of the socio-economic development and enhance the welfare of the people.

Although the President only presented the highlights of the 2020 budget proposals for the next fiscal year, he assured the lawmakers that the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning would provide full details of these proposals at a later date.

Less than 24 hours after the budget presentation, the Senate and the House commenced the debate on the real principle of the budget estimate.

Senate Leader Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, in his lead debate tore into shreds all the budget proposals presented by the President.

Senator Abdullahi noted that capital budget of N2.14 trillion to GDP ratio is rather too small, adding that the injection of this amount was a mere drop in the ocean and was incapable of stimulating the economy to higher growth, wealth creation and employment generation.

He further emphasised that the nation’s problem has to do with the fact that for over 40 years, “we have been operating an economy based on an expected revenue from oil.

“This has led to underperformance and most recently, recession. When we realised that we must diversify, we refused to also accept the fact that we have to change our approach to planning, revenue generation, and budgeting”.

On other economic parameters of the budget proposal, Abdullahi stated that an economic Growth Rate of 2.93% for a population of nearly 200 million was only marginally above population growth rate at 2.6%, annually.

He expressed concern that the country’s dependence on crude oil exports did not present a bright scenario for Nigeria’s healthy growth.

Also, last Wednesday, the green chamber commenced debate on the general principles of the budget.

Before the presentation of the appropriation bill for second reading, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, a lawmaker from Rivers State raised a point of order that the 2020 budget was premature for debate and should be stepped down, as it does not contain the necessary details.

Despite citing relevant House rules, which allowed debate on a budget only, when it is accompanied by details and referring to the speech by the president before a joint session of the National Assembly, Chinda, was ruled out of order by the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila.

Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, lamented that the budget did not offer much hope. He claimed that capital expenditure in this budget has been reduced from what it was in the 2019 Appropriation, saying it was unfortunate that the government was seeking to impose more tax on the citizens in order to fund the 2020 budget.

“The budget looks like a budget of standstill, the capital expenditure has been reduced from 2019, the debt servicing of 2.8trillion. There is no country that can make progress with this. Health budget is 48billion. How can we make progress? This time, we are putting the cart before the horse.

“Nigerians are burdened with so much tax. I believe the budget will not work. I believe the Finance bill should have been brought before this. I was House committee Chairman for works, I stated that the commitment of the ministry is 4 trillion of contract awarded. Anyone who believes that the country will move forward with this budget is a mirage.”

In his contribution, Hon Dan Asuquo, expressed dismay that details of the budget were not available to enable members make informed debate on the Appropriation Bill.

According to him, “I am commenting on the speech and the intention of the executive for 2020. I don’t have the details yet. I cannot speak about the budget I don’t have the details. For us, I will advise the leadership of the House, Senate and the Executive that Nigerians… I will address my people when the details of the budget comes.”

Hon Ken Chikere emphasised the need to know the population of the country to enable it generate the necessary data and statistics for proper budgeting system. He also argued that there was need to ensure proper implementation of the 2020 budget, when it is eventually passed.

His words: “I plead with the House to see there is proper implementation of the budget. It is our duty now to look at those estimates and come up with a budget. We should be mindful of the implementation of the budget. Lack of implementation is illegal. This country as presently constituted cannot make any progress unless the senate and the House come together.

“We cannot make progress if we don’t know how many we are. We must not be shy in discussing how many we are. We are unproductive 200 million. I am not one of those who are carried away by 200 million population.

“I think this budget should be inclusive. Take the case of Rivers State, for instance, there is no single federal government project there. We have a state that is not included in the projects. Our budget should also look at the issue of unemployment, insecurity and general infrastructure,” he noted.

The debate on the general principle of the budget will end next Tuesday at the Senate while the committee work is expected to commence by Wednesday.

The House, on its part, after its debate last Thursday suspended plenary till October 29 to enable members dissolve into their various standing Committees for Ministries, Departments and Agencies to appear for budget defence.

From the foregoing, the January to December budget cycle may be a reality as the National Assembly is likely to pass the Appropriation Bill by early December before it is transmitted to the President for his assent. But is the budget realistic and implementable? That’s the million dollars issues begging the question.