The rains, roads and the budget
The practice of not approving the national budget before the onset of the dry season, as was the case in the past, has impacted negatively on roads development. The other sectors are also affected but roads and agriculture are mostly affected. The practice of getting the budget approved or signed into law at the onset of the rainy season is partly to blame for the woeful state of roads across the country.
Before now, budgets are approved or signed into law at the onset of the rainy season in April, when it is problematic to work on the roads. We all know that road projects are better implemented in the dry season. In Nigeria, the dry season lasts generally from October to March, while the rains take over from April to September. This seasonal pattern ought to be taken into account in budget planning cycle.
The budget is supposed to be ready early enough to give room for effective implementation. But that has not been the case. The budget approval process is highly politicised. It drags and is unnecessarily prolonged because there seems to be no focus. The monies are released at the wrong time. Apparently, the rogue budgets are made to fail, since the funds allocated are time sensitive. Imagine, for instance, that Buhari’s 2020 revised budget was signed into law at the peak of rainy season in July, when road projects cannot be implemented.
Because the roads cannot be done during the rainy season, the funds are misappropriated or classified as “unspent budget” at the end of each fiscal year. And, you may ask why there should be “unspent budget” when there are lots of work to be done? The truth is that you can’t do any roads with funds released during the rainy season. The rains are not friendly with roads development, at least here in Nigeria.
For the government to develop, reconstruct or rehabilitate the network of dilapidated bad roads across the country, the work must be implemented during the dry season. If the government is serious and really wants to improve the condition of the roads, it should ensure that the funds for roads are made available at the onset of the dry season, when it would be effectively utilised. No effective work could be done when the rains take over. Floods disrupt construction activities.
It is, therefore, worrisome that the country’s budget planners don’t take the seasons into account. It is one thing to make budget but another thing to ensure its effective implementation. In Nigeria, budgeting is an annual ritual that yields no effective results. That is why the country remains at the bottom of underdevelopment despite the huge annual budgets.
For instance, under the current 2020 national budget, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the 2020 appropriation bill of N10.59 trillion on 17th December, 2019, which was timely. But action on the revised budget of N10.8 trillion was completed on July 19, just at the peak of the rainy season.
The National Assembly passed a revised budget of N10, 805,544,664,642 on the 11th of June after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a revised budget of N10.523 trillion in May.
President Buhari announced that the budget was revised due to the effect of the COVID–19 pandemic on the economy, and disclosed all MDAs will be allocated 50 per cent of their capital allocation by month end. While all this is dragging, the work that the budget is supposed to be used for remains in abeyance.
Under the budget, infrastructure development is placed high in government spending. The budget assumes that the money allocated for infrastructure projects would be faithfully applied to achieve the desired results. But the budget failed to appreciate the impact of the rains on the implementation process. How do you implement road projects under the rains? Given the debilitating impacts of rain on engineering construction, not much is achieved during the wet season.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown in February 2020, the Minister of Works, Babtunde Fashola, in company with some journalists, went on an inspection tour of some critical road projects in the South-South and South-East including the Second Niger Bridge, which is expected to relieve travellers using the Benin-Onitsha highway when completed. Without mincing words, the Minister urged the contractors to hasten action before the rains began. That effectively underscored the need to do road works in the dry season.
Fashola’s visit re-kindled the enthusiasm expressed by top government officials whenever they visit on-going road projects. He appreciated the work being done on the highways visited. After that, what next? What is the Minister going to do about releasing the needed funds to ensure that the pace of work continued unabated?
I am saying this because Fashola made his visit during the dry season. From now till the end of September, the entire southern Nigeria will be wet, which frustrates road projects. The Minister assured that the funds to complete the Second Niger Bridge has been set aside, meaning that funding will not delay the project delivery date of 2022. But the rains will naturally stall the work?
At every point during his visit, Fashola factored the rains. He realised that once the rains take over, whatever work is being done on the roads would be suspended. That has been the recurring fate of road projects in Nigeria. By mid December, when the budget would have run its course, all unspent funds would be recalled to the treasury. Money that was supposed to be applied to projects would be returned while the problems remain. It is a vicious cycle of failure.
Having failed to achieve the targets because of delayed release of funds, the same projects would, again, be carried over to the next year’s budget. Once again, that would drag till the beginning of the next rainy season. That way, we keep marking time at the same spot. We keep budgeting on the same issues every year without achieving anything. That is partly why the country is in a squalid state, especially in infrastructural development.
It would be recalled that the 2019 budget proposal was signed into law in June of that year. The unhealthy politicking over the budget dragged it. It took months to get budgets approved by the National Assembly (NASS). The politicking takes the period of implementation. Nigerians are the losers, as they are treated with failed budgets year in year out. The delay in the budget passage has rendered many ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) redundant. Nothing effective happens until the budget is approved and signed into law and funds are released. The first quarter of 2020 has gone without any achievement.
The way out is to change the current budget cycle. Let the budgets be ready by October 1 Independence Day. During the era of January budgeting cycle, social and economic activities kick-started at the beginning of the year. But these days, there seems to be no fixed time for getting the national budget. Unfortunately, the states have adopted the same pattern. These days, everything depends on the prevailing political situation. What happens at the federal level is replicated in the states. The country can’t move forward except the retrogressive budgeting system is changed to ensure effective implementation.