Lagos 2019 budget: Lost in transit … To party politics, intrigues
With the ding-dong going on between the executive and legislative arms in Lagos State, the question on the lips of many is, who and what is really delaying the formal presentation of the 2019 Lagos State Budget proposal by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to the state House of Assembly? Many had expected Governor Ambode to present the spending plan for the fifth largest economy in Africa before the end of November, or early December 2018.
This unduly delayed exercise, analysts are beginning to allege, may slow down the execution of critical ongoing projects in the state as funds may not be released in good time to contractors. They further argue that the development might rub-off negatively on the state’s economy despite it being largely driven by the private sector, which nonetheless relies on infrastructure provided by the state to service its market and target audience.
Almost all 36 governors have presented their 2019 budgets to their respective state Houses of Assembly, and some of these helmsmen have even signed them into law. But stakeholders feel that Lagos State should have been among the first states to do so, being the biggest state economy.
It is in the light of all these that stakeholders are begining to express deep concerns. However, when complaints began to mount, thereby constituting a source of embarrassment to the executive arm, especially to the person of the governor, the state government on January 2, 2019, issued a statement, through the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Mr. Olusegun Banjo.
The statement informed that the governor had verbally communicated to the state Assembly, his desire to present the 2019 “budget on Monday, December 24, 2018 after the State Executive Council’s approval on December 19, 2018, but the ceremony was postponed as the House was on recess.”
The government further explained that to pave way for the traditional presentation, a formal letter was sent to the House on Friday, December 28, 2018, and this was accompanied by the contents of the budget proposal, which is in the region of N852.317b.“It is expected that when the House reconvenes, the Speaker would inform members of the content of the budget proposal sent by the governor and take necessary actions,” the statement read.
Almost immediately the government statement made it to public domain, a counter statement by the state Assembly claimed it was not in possession of the budget, since it was still on recess, as acknowledged by the government’s statement.The counter claim notwithstanding, watchers of the unfolding scenario were quick to point out the fact that the legislators recess should not stop the administrative arm of the state Assembly, which is made up of civil servants, and headed by clerk from functioning and accepting correspondences on behalf of the lawmakers.
Be that as it may, the cat and mouse game between the executive and the legislature continued last week when State House Correspondents were placed on standby for hours for a likely budget presentation, which was again botched. Even though there were obvious signs that the presentation may not hold, an aide of the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) insisted that the event would hold at 2pm last Monday.
But on arrival at the Assembly Complex, the correspondents were informed that no budget presentation was scheduled for that day, and that the Assembly was not even aware of such an event. This was confirmed 30 minutes later by an aide of Speaker Mudashiru Obasa, when he told newsmen that there was no budget presentation on the cards. He said: “The Speaker is in a private session with other lawmakers. He said he was not aware of any budget presentation today. He also said he does not want to see any gathering at the lobby.”
According to a reliable source, shortly before and after the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary that produced Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the party’s governorship candidate, the executive and the legislature had been at loggerheads. The bad blood generated by the acrimonious primary, The Guardian understands, forced a shift in the date for budget presentation as going on with it at that time would have further heat up the polity, as was even reflected by pronouncements made by the Assembly in the wake of the controversial primary.
The source added that the Assembly’s apparent anti-Ambode posture was receiving the support of some prominent party leaders at both the state and national levels, all of whom are bent on checking the powers and influence of the governor.The source buttressed his claim with the letter written by the immediate past Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Wale Oluwo, who resigned from the party recently.
In his letter, Olowu alluded to the use of an arm of government, by a powerful bloc in the party to intimidate institutions of government.Another source added that what further compounded the budget presentation situation in the state is Ambode’s alleged refusal to toe the line of pre-budget presentation parley, which was the norm before now. That practice usually saw the governor organising a retreat where commissioners and heads of agencies and their administrative heads rubbed minds with the legislature.
The source said this was not done this time around. “And you know when such a parley is held, it is usually meant to wet the ground, with the legislators smiling home with goodies. “Apart from doing the biddings of some political leaders in the state, the governor’s failure to organise the retreat is one of the major reasons why the legislators are not happy with him,” he alleged.
In the last 10 years, Lagos State has never had it this bad with budget presentation. Governor Ambode presented the 2018 budget on December 11, 2017, about 20 days to the end of the year.The 2018 budget, the biggest the state has ever presented, was the second largest state budget in Nigeria. The 2018 budget came far later than that of 2017 budget, which the governor presented on November 29, 2016, that is about 32 days to the end of the year, while the 2016 budget was presented to the state Assembly 14 days to the end of Year 2015.
There are indications that the 2019 budget might take a longer time to work compared to 35 days others before it took. This is because almost all the lawmakers are out there campaigning to retain their seats in the Assembly. Also, because of the no love lost between the two arms of government, the legislature may simply put down the budget for as long as they wish in the guise of trying to be thorough.
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