After over six months’ delay into its statutory life, the N9 trillion 2018 Federal budget was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari two days ago. Curiously, Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara were not at the signing ceremony, nor were their deputies. Present however were Vice President Yomi Osinbajo and top-ranking officials of both the legislature and the executive arms of government.
At the signing ceremony, the President said he only agreed to sign the budget in order to stem the stagnation of the national economy due to unduly delayed budgets. He was not happy, he said, with several alterations the National Assembly made to the package. His remark once more resurrected the ghost of ‘budget padding’ which had created so much friction between him and the National Assembly in the budget exercises of 2016 and 2017, which also set the economy back in both years. The 2018 budget which statutory life runs from January 1st to December 31st of the year, was signed on June 20th, and is therefore not only late by law but is trailed by the President ‘s lament over alterations to it by the legislature.
All presidents of Nigeria before Buhari had also resented the legislators’ altering of their budgets. The MPs however argue that the power to appropriate money is beyond mere rubber stamping of Executive proposals but includes the power to alter or even introduce new items. This matter is yet to be settled with a judicial pronouncement. However, Buhari said the MPs cut 3000 projects he proposed and introduced 6,000. This was too much alteration, in our view, and it could throw the entire budget out of focus. The president has promised to table a supplementary budget before the Assembly soon, which could ameliorate some of the problems he observed including insufficient provisions for some key projects.
The fact that the 2018 is already delayed by half of the year will definitely be harmful to the national economy. Among the problems it imposes on the economy is the dislocation in implementation processes inherent in the mismatch between governance targets and fund releases. It is necessary to stick to the January 1 to December 31 budget circle. When the country’s budget operates outside the global business cycle, the implications include a self-imposed lag for the entire economy with respect to both its internal workings as well as its external linkages. It also provides opportunities for government officials to exploit loopholes in the fiscal template and misappropriate public funds. It is in this context that late budgets promote corrupt practices in the public service and thereby vitiate the integrity of the anti-corruption crusade of the present government.
The Daily Trust Board of Economists has also warned that unless there is accelerated capital spending for the rest of this year, we could fall into recession again by next year. The top priority now therefore is to fast track implementation processes for capital projects without jettisoning the need for transparency imposed by due process. If we however fail to execute key national projects due to bureaucratic processes, we will have ourselves to blame if we fall into another recession.
We urge the President to move fast and present his supplementary budget proposals to cover the areas he strongly feels require additional provisions. In doing so, it is however important to answer the MPs’ charge that projects that received full budgetary provision in last year’s budget still reappeared with the full complement of money in the 2018 budget proposals. Even though many Nigerians blame the National Assembly for taking six months to pass the budget that was submitted to it in November last year, we must remind the president too that November was not good enough a time to present the budget. This time around therefore, we expect him to present next year’s budget to the National Assembly as early as September. And we expect the MPs to pass it into law in December.