Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nigeria’s 2016 ‘budget of change’

“As I said in my New Year message, living in the State House does not in any way alienate me from your daily struggles. I read the newspapers and listen to the TV and radio news. I hear your cries. I share your pains…. The budget is intended to signpost a renewal of our commitment to restoring the budget as a serious article of faith with the Nigerian people. This Administration is committed to ensuring that henceforth the annual appropriation bill is presented to the National Assembly in time for the passage of the Act before the beginning of the fiscal year.” – President Muhammadu Buhari while signing the 2016 Appropriation Bill on Friday, May 6, 2016

It is heartwarming that after protracted controversies on Nigeria’s 2016 Federal Government budget which was presented to the parliament on December 22, 2015 and passed by the National Assembly on March 23, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari eventually signed the appropriation bill of N6.06tn into law on last Friday. It is commendable that PMB has also ordered the immediate release of N350bn to reflate the economy through capital projects.

 Well, the next phase which is the most challenging is the implementation of the financial estimates. To my own mind, government must earnestly work round getting the needed fund for the about N2tn deficit. It is unfortunate that militants under the aegis of Niger Delta Avengers have commenced hostilities against Chevron and NNPC by blowing off some of the pipelines of these two corporations.  The oil and gas pipelines ruptured in Warri South West Local Government Area posed a major threat to Nigeria meeting its 2.2mbpd oil production estimate. The vandalised gas pipelines have also worsened the electricity generation plan of the government.

It is laudable that about 30 per cent of the budget is earmarked for capital projects. It is however essential that President Buhari ensures the prompt release of these capital votes which are meant to tackle the infrastructural deficits such as roads, railway, housing, power and many others. It is an open secret that notwithstanding what is appropriated for MDAs; cash backing has always been a problem as Ministry of Finance and Central Bank may claim not to have resources to implement the projects for which funds had been earmarked. Government must redouble its efforts to ensure that having lost Quarter 1 of the financial year 2016, all projects in the budget, especially ongoing ones, are properly funded.

PMB should endeavor to live up to his promises by  implementing his welfare programmes as contained in paragraphs 23 to 25 of his December 22, 2015 budget speech. These are:  FG plan to partner with State and Local Governments to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE holders;  the FG plan to partner with State and Local Governments to provide financial training and loans to market women, traders and artisans, through their cooperative societies;  working  through the office of the Vice President with various development partners to design an implementable and transparent conditional cash transfer programme for the poorest and most vulnerable.

This includes home-grown public primary school feeding and free education for science, technology and education students in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.  Aside this, there is the need for the FG to provide adequate security for the citizenry in accordance with Section 14 (2)(c) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended which states that security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary purpose of government. The spate of crimes and criminality whether by armed bandits operating as robbers, kidnappers, herdsmen or terrorists must be checked.

The executive and the legislative arm must jointly work together to provide needed oversight on the performance of this year’s budget. Am glad to know that Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning had already drafted an implementation plan and a Monitoring and Evaluation framework for the budget.  Relevant committees of the Senate and House of Representatives must carry out genuine oversights on MDAs and not go on blackmailing and arm-twisting mission for personal aggrandisement as they are wont to doing. The media and civil society must also hold government to account on this financial estimate. As the saying goes, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Once bitten, twice shy is a popular adage, Federal Government must learn from the needless controversies over this year’s budget. It is laudable that the preparation for the 2017 budget has commenced in earnest as made known by Senator Udo Udoma who is the Minister for Budget and National Planning, The minister should however hurry slowly and made sure there is wide consultations with the relevant stakeholders. The current practice of sending memo to Ministries, Department and Agencies to submit their budget which is then harmonised by the Budget Office and thereafter presented to the National Assembly for passage is counterproductive.

As could be seen from the ruckus over the 2016 appropriation bill, the legislative arm is a critical stakeholder and should be accorded due recognition. A cripple may not be able to milk a cow but can easily spill the milk. National Assembly’s members’ interest should be reflected in subsequent budgets. Their desire to have constituency projects which they can use to impress their constituents as their democratic dividends should be taken seriously by the executive arm. While it may be true that legislative duties is not inclusive of project initiation and implementation, the norm in this clime is that electorates want more than lawmaking from their elected parliamentary representatives. They want roads, electricity, schools and potable water and cared less about who provides such amenities. Politicians want something to campaign for the next elections and it is tangible things like projects that they can use to convince their electorates that they have not been to Abuja to warm benches or count bridges.

Media and civil society input in subsequent budget is desirable. CSOs have emerged as partner in progress with government at all levels. It is important that their views on budget are captured and reflected in the country’s financial estimates. This will enrich the budgeting process and makes it all-inclusive. Now that the PMB administration has decided to adopt Zero Based Budgeting where every line item in the budget has to be justified, there is a need for the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning to thoroughly educate MDAs on that new budgeting method. Wider civic education on it is equally needful.

I will be most delighted to see subsequent national budget devoid of errors, padding, and brouhaha of 2016. Most importantly, I look forward to a budget whose implementation will align with the financial year framework of January to December.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong