Why we disagree with you, National Assembly tells president
• Leader signs N8.92tr 2019 budget, faults changes
• Analysts unveil highs, lows of fiscal spending plan
Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara yesterday reaffirmed the independence of the National Assembly, saying the legislature will not be a rubberstamp of the executive arm of government.
According to him, “by the constitution and design, the executive informs us what they intend to do and the representatives of the people in National Assembly decide what is priority, since they represent the people.”Dogara stated this during the signing of the N8.93 trillion 2019 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja.
He was reacting to a complaint by the president that changes to the budget by the legislators would “adversely impact our programmes, making it difficult for us to achieve the objectives of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.”The speaker’s assertion came at a time members of the new ninth Assembly are locked in a battle of wits over the choice of leadership.
The Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomhole had repeatedly boasted that the party would sweep all the leadership slots, leaving the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) helpless. But while some legislators backed his position, others, even within APC ranks, have disagreed, setting the stage for the climactic election in about two weeks.
“I have told you that the job of the National Assembly is not to agree with the executive. I don’t think any congress in the world does that. It is going to be a knotty area. But we will continue to define the relationship between the executive and the legislature. Whether it is Britain or United States, wherever it is, there is always a strain.
“This issue of budget, because it deals with high stakes distributional issues as to who gets what, which part of Nigeria gets this and that, it will continually be an issue. Those issues should not define us. Rather, we should define those issues by forming consensus. That is the part to progress and we will continue to do that,” Dogara said.
The speaker further urged the executive arm of government to always present the proposal early enough. According to him, “a situation where the budget is submitted in December, even if you shut down the entire National Assembly, we will not be able to achieve the January deadline.”
Before stating his objection, Buhari thanked “the leadership of the National Assembly and indeed all the distinguished and honourable members for all the hard work they put in to get us here.”But he noted: “You will all recall that in December 2018, I presented our 2019 budget proposal with the theme, ‘Budget of Continuity’. Our goal was to use this budget to move the economy further on the path of inclusive, diversified and sustainable growth.
“Back then, I proposed a total expenditure of N8.83 trillion to the National Assembly for appropriation; targeting strategic and impactful projects and initiatives. However, the 2019 budget I will be signing into law today provides for aggregate expenditures of N8.92 trillion. This is an increase of N90.33 billion over our submission.
“This increase reflects changes introduced by the National Assembly. In some areas, expenses we proposed were reduced while in other areas they were increased. There were also certain areas where new additions were introduced into the budget.”He resolved: “Although I will be signing this bill, it is my intention to continue to engage the National Assembly to ensure we deliver on our promises. I will therefore be engaging with the leadership of the ninth National Assembly, as soon as they emerge, to address some of our concerns with this budget.”
The president also promised to look into ways of speeding up the budget process.Senate President Bukola Saraki arrived late to the event. Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu who represented him explained that Saraki was coming to the Villa straight from the airport.
Also, Budget and National Planning Minister, Udoma Udo Udoma, will today provide details of the spending plan. The event scheduled to hold at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Ministry of Finance auditorium will shed light on sectoral allocations and spotlight the changes made by the National Assembly.
Reactions meanwhile have been following the signing of the budget with some financial analysts urging the Federal Government to augment the time lost in its passage by implementing development projects in the document immediately.
The Head of research at FSDH Merchant Bank Limited, Ayodele Akinwunmi, said the commencement of the full implementation would stimulate the economy. “But this would also require that the government announces the members of the new cabinet with their portfolio in good time,” he noted.
The past president of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, Michael Itegboje, said the board of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must be instituted for the market to play its role at galvanising the economy for sustainable growth.“Since 2015, SEC has had no board. It is high time a board was put in place, if the capital market must support fiscal plans and discharge its full responsibility,” he said.
The lead director of Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, maintained that the key concerns are realisation of revenue to implement the budget and transparency issues.Abuja-based development consultant, Jide Ojo, on his part, stated: “The significance of signing it on Children’s Day coincidentally, means the president takes the budget to be a child’s play. The president should work assiduously to return Nigeria’s budgeting system to January-December, and add more seriousness through transparent implementation.”
In other reactions, development economist, Odilim Enwegbara, said: “The most worrisome is the size of the budget. It is too small considering our size and the infrastructure gap we have. Again, very disturbing is the ratio between the capital portion and the recurrence, which is 20/80. What it means is that our huge debt is servicing consumption instead of infrastructure development. We can’t make any progress if we continue this way.”
Executive director of Ibadan-based Africa Centre for Shared Development Capacity Building, Olu Ajakaiye, was optimistic the country could return to the January-December budget cycle “when the relationship between the executive and National Assembly becomes less adversarial and muscle flexing attitudes are minimised.”
He added: “The key assumptions are reasonably realistic. I hope the padding will not be too distorting. The minimum wage and the consequential increases in all wages will be a challenge as revenue profile is unlikely to improve. This may threaten planned capital expenditure and possibly raise debt. Government needs to consider more innovative non-debt capital budget financing options, including leveraging on capital market options especially careful securitisation of government assets.”