Where is the 2014 federal budget?
Governments all over the world use budget policy and implementation mechanisms to address a wide range of developmental, economic, environmental, political, social and human rights challenges. It is a basic aphorism that the level of economic growth and development in any society is directly related and proportional to the maturity of its budget policy and how the policy responds to the challenges facing the society. Thus, if Nigeria’s budget policy had responded positively to the challenges of underdevelopment, the country would have been able to develop its human resources, address infrastructure deficits and ensure economic growth and inclusivity at the level projected under Vision 20:2020. Essentially, we would have been on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals and the promises of life in larger freedom – freedom from hunger, want, disease, illiteracy, and others, promised under a plethora of national and international human rights laws.
Today is Monday, May 19, 2014, five months into the year and with only seven months left to the end of it. But the fiscal policy document that shows the direction of the Nigerian state in terms of the expected income, revenue, expenditure and accepted priorities is not yet ready. The authorities in the executive and the legislature have not agreed on its contents and the priorities. Thus, they are still playing a brand of decadent politics with the budget. However, public resources are being spent and the large and directionless trek to nowhere is ongoing. Is it possible to have a new fiscal governance trajectory that departs from this confusion? Is it possible for the executive and the legislature to initiate and approve a budget that commences on January 1 and ends on December 31 in accordance with the Financial Year Act?
Going through my previous interventions on the budget, I saw similar questions I had raised on the 2013 budget, especially the fact that it was passed late in the year. Apparently, I thought a dialogue was going on. If there is one, it is a dialogue with those who deliberately refuse to hear. They are not deaf. The facts below speak for themselves; the 2006 budget was presented to the National Assembly on December 6, 2005 and signed into law on February 22, 2006; the 2007 budget was presented on October 11, 2006 and signed into law on December 22, 2006; The 2008 budget was presented on November 8, 2007 and signed into law on April 11, 2008; The 2009 budget was presented on December 2, 2008 and signed into law on March 8, 2009, while the 2010 budget was presented on November 23, 2009 and signed in April 2010. The 2011 budget was presented on December 15, 2010 and was signed into law after the end of the first quarter, while the 2012 budget was presented on December 13, 2011 and signed into law in April 2012. The 2013 budget was signed into law after the end of the first quarter.
The reasons for the delays in having an approved budget are quite clear. I will just review only two. When you start the process late, you must inexorably end it late. The process is not easy to short circuit. It is programmed to run for the long haul. Also, if the executive refuses to appropriately consult the legislature in fixing key budgetary benchmarks, you end up with a power contest, a turf war and at the end of the day, the budget comes late. In that case, the Nigerian people are the real and ultimate losers. In terms of timing, the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act had planned the process to start very well on time. The Medium Term Expenditure Framework which provides the anchor for the budget is expected to be ready and endorsed by the Federal Executive Council before the end of the second quarter being June of every year. Thereafter, it is expected to be delivered to the National Assembly for approval. If it is delivered in early July, the approval can come before the legislature proceeds on the mid-year recess. This will pave the way for the budget to be prepared and readied for presentation to the legislature as soon as they resume from their recess in early September. With this timeline, the legislature will have no excuse for not getting the budget estimates ready for approval before the first week in December. The idea is that the remaining working days in December could be used to iron out any executive-legislative budgetary feuds and get the document signed, sealed and delivered and awaiting implementation when the clock strikes in January 1 of the New Year.
Even though the 1999 Constitution allows the President to present the budget to the legislature at any time within the financial year, the aforementioned FRA paves the way for reason and common sense to prevail. On the issue of the perennial turf war as to who will be the final authority to determine key budgetary benchmarks and contents, the same FRA provides for indepth consultation between the executive and legislature and other key stakeholders in the process of arriving at a consensus. However, the practice has been for the executive to do its own thing and the lawmakers wait until the budget estimates come to them to do their own thing. The result is always a stalemate, name-calling, allegations by the executive that the budget has been distorted, etc. Year after year, we keep repeating the same budgeting experiment without changing the variables, the chemicals and the reagents for the experiment and expect different results. That is nothing but the height of insanity! To worsen matters, neither the legislature nor executive has summoned the courage to approach the Supreme Court for a determination of the extent of their powers as provided in the extant Constitution. They prefer this lack of clarity and the fluidity of the situation to the detriment of the population.
We are therefore dealing with the refusal to change and to learn from past mistakes by our leaders in the executive and legislature. For the 2014 budget, however, without claiming the power of clairvoyance, the personnel, overheads and the whole recurrent expenditure will be fully spent. As usual, the capital expenditure will suffer, projects will be delayed. Our fiscal leaders are leading the nation without a plan and they adopt the rule of the thumb approach to the budget. Clearly, we have lost 2014 in terms of using the budget for economic planning. We are also about losing the benefits that will accrue if the 2015 budget is presented and approved on time. Despite the provisions of the FRA, the process for the preparation of the anchor MTEF has not started; and this is a document that should be endorsed by the Federal Executive Council by the end of June before approval by the legislature.
Is anyone out there ready to listen and join this call? The Finance Minister and Budget Office of the Federation should sit down and fulfill their basic statutory obligations. Start the preparation for the 2015 budget today. Yes, we need to bring back our girls held in Boko Haram captivity, but the strategies, logistics and briefings should be left to the Minister of Defence, the Service and Intelligence Chiefs while Madam Minister concentrates on her basic duties including providing financial support for the campaign.
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