Don’t expect timely passage of 2018 budget, says NASS
2017 Budget Yet To Attain 10 Percent Implementation
The Chairman of House of Representatives committee on Legislative Budget and Research, Mr. Timothy Golu, has ruled out the possibility of passing the 2018 budget into law before the end of the year, even as he disagreed with the executive arm that paucity of funds caused the poor implementation of 2017 estimate.
Also, commenting on the brewing crisis, a principal officer in the Red Chamber observed that the ground was already being prepared for another round of budget crisis between the National Assembly and the executive arm of government.
According to him, the late submission of MTEF to the National Assembly as well as refusal to comply with relevant laws guiding budget preparations had always been the causes of challenges dogging Nigeria’s budgeting process.
The senator recalled how in 2016, the Senate returned the MTEF to the executive arm of government due to lack of supporting documentation and details.
Golu, who spoke to The Guardian in Abuja, explained that the December 31-target cannot be realised due to the poor implementation of the 2017 budget, regretting that while the government said they have released funds, most of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) said they have not seen cash.
While contending that there is no way the MDAs would start implementation of any budget without money, the lawmaker, who represents Pankshin / Kanke / Kanan federal constituency of Plateau State, blamed the executive for the problem associated with the 2017 budget implementation.
He said: “Lack of money is not the main problem, government is slow in taking decision, it is slow in coordinating the agencies, it is slow in coordinating it’s policies. The government is just slowing down most of these things.
“I believe that if the government can accelerate action, if there can be proper coordination between the ministry of finance and the budget office and then the MDAs, these things could be sorted out.”
The lawmaker decried the situation whereby everybody in the executive is saying different things, stressing that they are not on the same page as far as budget data is concerned.
“So that is part of the problem; I don’t see us passing this budget before the end of the year, because we need to do a good job. They have not submitted it, yet they are talking about passage.
“We are yet to start work on MTEF-FSP; the relevant committees are about to work on the MTEF-FSP now, which should precede the submission of the main budget, so it means that we would be handling the budget together with the MTEF-FSP, which to us is not the problem, because we can do it.
“But to have enough time for the various committees to do their work, it would be difficult to pass this budget before December 31, because if we rush now and do an untidy job, Nigerians would not be happy. So we need enough time to handle the items, one by one, because the national assembly more than ever before is putting an eagle eye on every item,” he remarked.
Further, the legislator disclosed that the House of Representatives is doing what is referred to in port parlance as destination inspection of the budget items, stressing that since it is a law, “if we don’t do it well, the implementation would be bad and it would affect all of us.”
He disclosed that the leadership of the National Assembly has resolved to sit down and analyze in details, every item so that by the time it becomes law, you know that it would be implementable.
“That in itself is a problem, because there should be clear implementation of the 2017 budget to give way for the coming budget, because if the previous budget is not implemented then there would be no clearance for the new budget to take off. So, if they want to harmonize or roll over some things, I just don’t know how they are going to do it. “
On the level of implementation of the 2017 budget, Golu stated: “We have not heard anything about the 2017 budget yet. There is nothing happening. We have not heard about the implementation up until now, even 10 percent implementation has not been done and they are planning to bring 2018 budget.”
Some critical minds in the National Assembly believe that the approval given by FEC, which suggested that the executive had concluded action on the 2018 budget proposal and ready to present same to the Legislature amounted to turning the law upside down, which they say could kick start serious problems for the 2018 budget.
Picking holes on the procedure, a member of Senate Committee on Appropriation drew attention to section 18 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which clearly provides that the President ought to await the consideration and approval of the draft MTEF by the National Assembly before using same as basis for preparing the Budget proposal.
He said: “These are the issues we have always raised; why do we always behave as if we are ignorant of the laws guiding budget preparation? Look, it is sad that despite the presence of competent lawyers in cabinet, the executive is acting as if the law does not matter.
“Apart from the Vice President, you have the Attorney-General of the Federation there. Better still, the minister in charge of Budget is not only a lawyer, he was with us here as a member of Senate. Is it impossible to get the document on MTEF submitted by the end of August as required by law? They ignored that aspect of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and submitted MTEF in October.”
The lawmaker added: “Now, to do a thorough job before getting the MTEF approved, it takes a minimum of six weeks. That is why the law asked that the draft of the MTEF be submitted to the National Assembly at least four months to the end of the year, so that before the end of October of every year, the MTEF would have been considered, approved and sent back to the President.”
He argued that in the eyes of the law, “it is the approved MTEF sent to the President that he will use to cause the national budget to be prepared and later sent back to the legislature as Budget proposal.”
“At the moment, the National Assembly has not even started considering the MTEF draft because of its late submission and FEC has announced that it has approved the Budget proposal. What a mess! Is the National Assembly supposed to play the rubber stamp role and close its eyes to these irregularities? We wait and watch how the whole thing will play out,” he explained.
Late submission of MTEF to the National Assembly had in the recent past produced serious problems for the early passage and implementation of the budget.
Other lawmakers who expressed their minds to The Guardian on the issue expressed regrets that no lesson has been learnt from the budget crisis that had always been a source of quarrel between the executive and legislative arms of government particularly since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Specifically, the Fiscal Responsibility Act stated in section 18: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Act or any other law, the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework shall be the basis for the preparation of the estimates of revenue and expenditure required to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly under section 81(1) of the Constitution.
“The sectoral and compositional distribution of the estimates of expenditure referred to in subsection (1) of this section shall be consistent with the medium term developmental priorities set out in the Medium Term expenditure Framework.”
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