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Budget 2019: NASS workers strike, executive/legislative feud threaten presentation

By Mathias Okwe, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh and Adamu Abu (Abuja)
16 December 2018   |   4:30 am
It is likely that the promise by this government to reset the country’s disjointed and dysfunctional budgeting system, may not materialise before the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s four-year tenure.

• 2019 Poll May Affect Passage

It is likely that the promise by this government to reset the country’s disjointed and dysfunctional budgeting system, may not materialise before the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s four-year tenure.

Rather than put in place the much-talked about January to December life cycle for the national budget, the administration has instead extended the frontiers of dysfunctional budgeting thus threatening a possible loss of an entire fiscal year.

And if wisdom does not prevail, the country may not have an approved spending plan for 2019 till around August or September next year, after the proclamation and constitution of the 9th National Assembly by the next President of Nigeria.The reason for the above scenario is that the legislators, who are soon to embark on Christmas and New Year break, would shortly after resumption, go on another break for campaigns and the general election.

The 2019 budget may have been entrapped by what some economic experts, yesterday, described as the elongation of the budgeting calendar to 20 months, through the unnecessary face-off between the executive and the legislature.

Meanwhile, the management of the National Assembly (NASS) has begun moves that would result in Buhari not personally presenting the budget proposal to a Joint Session of the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The Guardian reliably learnt that following notice of a four-day warning strike served by the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), the NASS management kick-started high-level consultations to ensure that the President is not embarrassed on the D-Day.

It was further gathered that part of the measures being taken by NASS management to avert any showdown, is encouraging Buhari to adopt the option of sending the budget proposal through a minister or an aide to the political leadership of the two chambers.

Another strategy, a top NASS source revealed, is to engage PASAN’s leadership in serious reconciliation talks that would make them drop the sit-at-home industrial action.But the workers, who are protesting over unpaid salaries, allowances and promotion arrears, appear not keen to give peace a chance or entertain further assurances or promises having suffered disappointments in the past.

Already, the delay by the Presidency in presenting the budget proposal to the NASS has become a source of concern to many lawmakers, who had openly criticised the executive arm for creating the impression that the budget document was ready. The two chambers of the National Assembly are supposed to have proceeded on their Christmas and end of year holiday, but had to reschedule the date in order to receive the budget from the President.

In a letter of notification sent to the political leadership of the National Assembly on Friday, PASAN said stated that all its members would begin a sit-at-home warning strike for four days, beginning from Monday.The letter signed by the association’s chairman, Musa Bature Muhammed, read: “Sequel to our earlier notice of strike action as contained in the communique dated November 29, 2018, the Congress of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), National Assembly Chapter, unanimously resolved at its emergency congress held on December 14, 2018 to embark on a 4-day warning strike commencing from Monday, 17th to 20th December, 2018.

“By this notice, be kindly informed that the entire members of PASAN shall stay off their respective duties on the above mentioned dates.”In a letter to the National Assembly leadership, President Buhari had last Thursday informed that he would be at the National Assembly on Wednesday to present the 2019 budget proposal before both chambers.

In the early days of the crisis, President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had charged the Clerk to the National Assembly, Muhammed Sani Omolori, to urgently address the grievances of workers to avert a disruption of legislative activities.

Saraki stated that the political leadership of the National Assembly had no hands in whatever issues the workers complained of, adding that the management of the NASS is in charge of the entire staff.

EXPERTS who are concerned with budget matters insist that the unfortunate situation in the country has continuously affected negatively, the implementation and reporting of budgets, with the current 2018 document badly affected.

According to the Executive Chairman, Society for Analytical Economics, Prof. Godwin Owoh: “The 2018 budget goes on with phantom oddities; call back, extremely lacking in measurements, internal controls and fiscal order. The monetary bedwetting by the monetary authority that disfigures the related policy transmission mechanism remains unabated. Hence, the economy weeps; the extension of the national budget period to 20 months.”

In similar manner, a leading development economist who is a also Chairman of the London Business Development Corporation, Prof Ken Ife, described the country’s budgeting procedure as regrettable, stressing that it lacks coordination in the processing, leading to a delay in presentation, conflict between the legislators and the executive, and the opaque implementation and reporting by the relevant agencies.

Ife, who is also a member of the Task Force on EU-Africa Business Cooperation, as well as lead consultant to the ECOWAS Commission said: “Because there is lack of proper coordination between the executive and the legislature in the Budgeting process, we do not have a framework even for our external borrowings in such a manner as to identity projects, which can on their own retire borrowings so that the internally generated revenue, which are used to settle these foreign liabilities could be channelled to other infrastructure captured in the budget.

Meanwhile, the Senate may have resolved to ignore remarks by the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, that the delay in the presentation of the budget was caused by the NASS.However, the Upper legislative chamber is worried about the poor implementation of the 2018 budget particularly the capital projects. Udoma, who was a member of the Senate until 2007, has since denied making the remarks.

Although the Senate is yet to take a decision on whether or not it is ready to receive the President in a joint session with the House of Representatives, there have not been any sign that the minister’s remarks could cause much displeasure, particularly as he has denied it.

Chairman, the Senate Committee of Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Sam Anyanwu, in an interview with The Guardian, yesterday, advised his colleagues in the House of Representatives to re-consider their threat to boycott the budget presentation.

Senator Anyanwu, however, wondered why the executive has not effectively implemented the 2018 budget saying, “my worry is that even the 2018 budget that we passed has not even been implemented. The capital projects provisions of that budget have not been executed up to 10 per cent. This is sad. So, my suggestion in this area would be that we should just resolve to carry it over to 2019.

A lawmaker, who chairs a standing committee of the House of Representative, but asked not to be named said the passage and implementation of the 2019 budget would be affected by the 2019 general election, even as he added that the passage may also be stalled due to the poor implementation of the 2018 budget. 

The lawmaker predicted that just like the 2015 budget, the 2019 budget would surely run into troubled waters due to the transition from one tenure to another. Said he: “There is virtually no budget to implement. The government only released 10 per cent of the capital component of the 2018 budget. And that was released in the third quarter of this year. So, this means the whole thing has collapsed. 

“The MDA’s tell us the second release has been made but that it has not been cash-backed. This means in terms of implementation there are two things, which are normally considered because the monies would have to be released before the project execution.
“The second problem is that of the President presenting the budget in the midst of an election year when the National Assembly is struggling to form quorum, when psychologically, politically and financially members are set to go into the election. So, you can expect that it would be the poorest ever budget that would be considered.