Senate in stormy session, wants Buhari to sign budget
• Lawmakers seek bill to amend fiscal plan
• Private sector operators warn delay hurts economy
• Stakeholders want 50 per cent execution before approval
In a stormy closed-door session yesterday, the Senate resolved to persuade President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the 2016 budget and later submit an amendment proposal to the National Assembly to correct identified lapses.
The meeting, which was characterised by massive criticisms of the manner in which the budget was processed by the appropriation committees of the National Assembly, was said to have resolved to give President Buhari 30 days within which to consider the request of the National Assembly and sign the budget.
And amid the raging controversy over the fiscal plan, the Organised Private Sector (OPS) has appealed that the budget impasse between the Presidency and the National Assembly be resolved quickly to check the negative economic effects of the delay in the signing of the document.
Senators who spoke off the record shortly after the closed-door session disclosed that it was an opportunity for frank discussions on the crisis rocking the Senate because of the budget.
Members of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, who complained against what they called an undemocratic approach to the appropriation process, drew attention of their colleagues to specific lapses which resulted from the mishandling of the process.
It was learnt that a major decision at the meeting was that serious and conclusive measures should be taken by both the National Assembly and executive arm of government to make the 2016 budget ready for implementation.
At the meeting, it was said to have been observed that because time was no longer on the side of government on the need to kick-start the economy, no stone should be left unturned to facilitate the signing of the budget into law.
Yesterday’s closed-door session was convened by the Senate leadership to brief the lawmakers of an earlier decision taken by the body of principal officers of the National Assembly on Wednesday night.
Rising from the closed-door session, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session said:”The Senate in a closed -session deliberated on issues relating to the 2016 appropriation bill and the way forward for the quick resolutions of all the matters related to the early implementation of the budget in the best interest of our nation”
In a brief interview after the session later yesterday, the Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, denied that the meeting resolved to remove the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje.
“Nobody should expect me, on my honour, to disclose details of what we discussed in a closed-door session. It is not true that we asked the chairman of the Senate committee, Danjuma Goje, to resign. That is not what we discussed. Goje was appointed and he could only be removed by a vote of no confidence. We can only ask the elected officers of the Senate to resign, not chairmen of committee. For a chairman that was appointed, we can decide to appoint another one, we can swap chairmen, we change their responsibilities.”
On the Senate relationship with the president regarding the budget crisis, Ndume said: “We have seen the president already on the budget. In fact, meeting the president by the Senate leadership is not a big deal.
“It is not true that the budget had been sent back to the National Assembly. I am also not aware that there is any communication from the president on the issue. What I know is that areas of concern to the presidency are now with us here. We are talking with the presidency to resolve all the issues.”
And from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, came yesterday an assurance that the National Assembly and the executive are likely to resolve issues surrounding the 2016 budget this week.
Dogara, who spoke when he received a delegation of All Progressives Congress (APC) elders and stakeholders from Kwande/Oshongo federal constituency of Benue State in the National Assembly, also said that the executive and the parliament would not have any fight over the 2016 budget as passed by the National Assembly.
He stated: “We know that our people cannot wait forever for the budget and as a responsible government, we cannot afford to go sleep on this. As we speak to you, I know that the executive has sent its observations on the budget, areas it termed ‘grey areas’. We’ve taken delivery of that document, we are looking into it and in collaboration with the Senate, the entire National Assembly, we have arrived at a decision which I will not announce here because that one is for the ears of Mr. President only.
“It is in the overall national interest, we know that we have to find a solution and sooner than later, within this week, I believe that as leaders, having put on our thinking caps, we should be able to come up with a solution that will address this problem.”
He explained that the National Assembly is well within its powers to make amendments to the budget before passing it because the role of the executive stops at providing estimates to the legislature which now goes further to prepare the budget into an appropriation law.
The speaker also gave the assurance that the current administration is committed to keeping up with its electoral promises, especially through the instrument of the budget. He urged the citizens to collaborate with the government to make it a success.
According to members of the OPS, the delay in signing the budget is heightening the uncertainty in the nation’s challenging business environment. They noted that the challenges in the business environment were getting tougher, especially in relation to insecurity in parts of the country, state of infrastructure and the foreign exchange crisis.
To the stakeholders, Nigeria has continued to drift into economic crises following a series of adverse developments in the international oil market and the inability of the legislative and executive arms of government to come to a consensus on the 2016 budget.
The Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, said that the uncertainty in the economy had continued to keep investors away from the nation’s financial markets while their confidence in the economy continued to wane.
He explained that while the Federal Government may have promised to reflate the economy, only appropriated funds could be utilised for the purpose.
“First, we need to consider the challenges of infrastructure in the country. Government’s spending is key in addressing the infrastructural deficit but the delay will affect the capacity to improve on the parlous state of the infrastructure. In terms of capital expenditure, government does not have a good record when it comes to implementation, as such, early implementation of the budget is key.
“In terms of cash flow, spending power has been adversely affected. If government increases spending on locally produced goods, it will have multiplier effects on the economy, particularly the real sector. With the delay, the positive effects are being eroded. Similarly, there is the need for a proper clarification of powers of the legislature and the executive as far as the budget is concerned. The judicial interpretation of the limits of the power of both arms of government is necessary to avoid a recurring situation,” Yusuf said.
The President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dr. Frank Jacobs, decried the rising level of uncertainty in the economy, noting that the situation could be addressed through budget implementation.
The Director, Membership and Public Relations, Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprise (NASME), Nerus Ekezie, told The Guardian that the delay in approving the budget would further reduce the capacity utilisation of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
Ekezie who said that the capacity utilisation of the manufacturing sector had fallen from 54 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent, expressed fear that it may fall further if the Federal Government failed to fix the country’s infrastructural facilities.
“The absence of the budget should not cripple the economy because government is allowed to execute 50 per cent of the budget even if it has not been signed. But, as we can see now, every activity in the economy has been put on hold. Unfortunately, SMEs are the most affected. This year’s budget is expected to handle infrastructure such as power and roads. These infrastructure are very important for the manufacturing sector, but as it is right now, the SMEs may continue to wallow in challenges of infrastructural decadence.”
Ekezie warned that a further decline in the capacity utilisation may lead to a massive layoff of workers in the SME sector. “The staff strength has to go down with the capacity. But there are some companies which are still managing their staff strength. It may not be long before such companies begin to sack,” he said.
He therefore advised the Federal Government to continue to run the budget pending when all the issues surrounding the approval would be resolved. On the effects of the budget delay on the private sector, the Director General of the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Olusegun Oshinowo, said there was the need for the country to re-examine her budgetary process.
“I think we need to re-examine our budget process, a situation where four months into a fiscal year we have not activated our entire budget is just not acceptable. It doesn’t speak well of our nation; it doesn’t add to the image of our nation. This is one issue that the executive and legislative arms of government should jointly examine.
“Our entire budgetary process from conception to implementation needs to be examined in terms of timeliness because currently, we have lost four months of the year and that’s four months of opportunity to impact on the development of Nigeria. We should get our budget to commence on the first day of the fiscal year, failure to do that will only slow down the economy. It will impact negatively on productivity; we will not be able to parade meaningful GDP growth rate at the end of the year. We are really killing this economy by our untidiness when it comes to budgetary process.
“We have just eight months left in the year for us to give effects to our budget. Infrastructure is a key issue, so we’ve slowed down the process of trying to improve on our infrastructure stock and what that means is that the enabling environment will suffer.”
In the same vein, the Rivers State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Hyginus Chika Onuegbu, advocated synergy between the executive and the legislature for swift budgetary implementation. According to him, the budget impasse is almost grounding economic activities in the country.
The President and Chairman of Council, Institute of Capital Market Registrars, Bayo Olugbemi, said the delay was already having a negative impact on the economy by holding back foreign investment coming into the country. “A lot of people are waiting for this budget. Let us ensure that the delay is to cross all the ts’ and check all that should be checked. If that is the case, I think it is for the better,” he said.