Both chambers of the National Assembly have set February 25 as the date with which to pass the 2016 budget into law. But in view of the lapses and loopholes in the proposed budget document, some have argued that the time line given by the lawmakers appears unrealistic writes DOZIE EMMANUEL
After the initial controversy that trailed the N6.08 trillion 2016 budget estimates, the federal lawmakers are gradually settling down on the core business of budget defence with the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs of government.
In a bid to assist President Muhammadu Buhari’s actualise his change mantra, the parliamentarians have promised to pass the budget by February 25.
Sequel to this affirmation, the House of Representatives, on January 26, passed the 2016 Appropriation Bill into second reading, though not without some criticism. The N6.08 trillion budget is now at the committee stage where the various MDAs are expected to come and defend their budget estimates.
The lower chamber has, therefore, adjourned plenary for two weeks to allow the various standing committees do a thorough job.
While some maintained that the three weeks would not be adequately enough for the lawmakers to do a good job in view of the lapses and loopholes in the budget, others have argued that the time line would enable the lawmakers swing into action and possibly passed the budget on time so as to give the executive enough time to implement the budget.
Now the moral questions are: how realistic is the passage of 2016 budget into law by February 25? Will the lawmakers be in a hurry to pass the budget estimates just to meet the time line set for themselves? Or are they eager to ignore the time line in order to give Nigerians a realistic budget?
Of course, before the budget is eventually passed, it normally takes some detailed work at the committee level and eventual harmonisation by both chambers. For instance, the 2015 budget was presented in December 2014 and passed into law in April 2015.
No doubt, one issue the lawmakers have to deal with is the oil bench mark pegged at $38 per barrel. Currently, the price of oil in the global market is now less than $30 per barrel. Financial experts have said that the budget is already in deficit giving that over N2 trillion will be borrowed locally and internationally to finance the budget.
Some of these lawmakers, who argued against, said that the proposed budget is “an incomplete document.”
One of such lawmakers is the House Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor representing Isoko North and South Federal Constituency of Delta state on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
In his budget debate, Ogor expressed disappointment that there were lots of things missing in the budget and pointed out that the budget of many government agencies were conspicuously missing in it. The minority leader cited the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, FRA 2007 that says thus: “the Minister of Finance shall cause to be attached to the budget the revenue and expenditure projections of all the government agencies”.
The Minority Leader argued that N6.33 trillion being the budget of about 15 agencies were missing in it and quoted Section 18 of the FRA that provides that: “notwithstanding anything to the contrary, the FRA shall be the basis of the laying of the annual budget”.
Ogor lamented that Nigeria was currently facing many challenges, including depleting of the stock market; fall in crude oil price among others and stressed the need to give Nigerians a budget that would stand the test of time.
In his contributions, Hon. Samson Okwu (Benue-PDP) said that the drop in the budget benchmark for crude oil price from $38 to $28 had affected the government’s revenue projections in the budget. He, therefore, emphasised the need for the government to diversify the economy and look for alternative revenue sources.
Hon. Bode Ayorinde (Ondo-APC) was of the view that the 2016 budget was not comprehensive enough, noting that the $1.4 trillion fined MTN Nigeria – the biggest telecom operator in Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC was captured in the budget.
Hon. Nicholas Ossai (Delta-PDP) said that the 2016 budget had failed all known litmus test and pointed out many shortfalls in capital projections of the budget. Ossai further hinted that all government agencies that have statutory transfer status were not captured as such while others that were captured as such have no such status.
But conversely, the House Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamilla (Lagos-APC) said despite the furore that greeted the 2016 budget, the budget is unprecedented in the country’s history. He pointed out that the budget was historic because for the first time in recent history, 30 per cent of the budget was dedicated to capital expenditure.
According to him, “the provisions of the 2016 budget will enhance even development in the country.
“I mentioned earlier that this budget is historic because it has a social intervention component. This is because this is the first time that 30 per cent of our budget will be dedicated to capital expenditure in recent history.
”The 2016 budget is the first all-inclusive budget that seeks to carry all Nigerians along; the rich, the not-so-poor, the not-so-rich and others. It is my hope and that of the House of Representatives that the 2017 capital expenditure will be increased to 40 per cent.
“The 2016 budget is epic not just because of its mega size of N6tn but for the reason that it touches on the well-being of the people”.
Nevertheless, it is certain that every budget estimates that comes to the National Assembly must be thoroughly debated and critically dissected as has been the case over the years.
In fact, Nigerians are not really bothered whether the budget is passed on February 25 or after; what is paramount to an average Nigerian is that the i’s is properly dotted and the t’s carefully crossed in the course of the budget defence.
As expected, after passing the budget, the next thing is to ensure that the budget is judiciously implemented and this can only be achieved through effective oversight to these MDAs.
It is sad that previous budgets have always fall short of implementation. This is an era of change and this change should start with a well budget implementation by the executive arm of government.
“No doubt, one issue the lawmakers have to deal with is the oil bench mark pegged at $38 per barrel. Currently, the price of oil in the global market is now less than $30 per barrel. Financial experts have said that the budget is already in deficit giving that over N2 trillion will be borrowed locally and internationally to finance the budget”.