Since Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999, issues of disagreement over budget estimates have remained a recurring one, this year inclusive.
Every year, both the Executive and Legislature would engage in arguments over who has the final word over the nation’s budget. While the brick-bat goes on, the masses who are the target beneficiaries of the budget suffer untold hardships ranging from delay in project implementation, delay in salaries’ payments and non-execution of capital projects which ultimate purpose is to galvanize the economy and speed up economic and social development of the country.
The constitution permits the president as head of the executive branch or his subordinates as a delegated authority to submit annual estimates to the national assembly for scrutiny and final passage before presidential assent. This is how it has been and ought to be.
Certainly no one quarrels with this. But regrettably what have become disagreements and issues resulting in delays in passing the budget in the end are suspicions on both parts bothering on budget padding, double subheads, constituency projects and many infractions that are corruption-prone. In other climes, upon receipt of the estimates, lawmakers are expected to scrutinize the estimates and where it finds discrepancies or fictitious allocations, it is duty bound to expose such slush funds and reallocate them to other areas of needs. This is how it ought to be and it is assumed that this is the ‘scrutiny’ task the Legislature is canvassing each time government officials appear before the various committees to defend their allocations.
For example, item such as overseas training has been a conduit pipe for stealing government money by civil servants. In a particular case, the item was presented twice but with different titles and subheads. One as ‘international seminar’, and the second as ‘oversea conference’ with different sums allocated to the subheads with the purpose of stealing the funds.
We observe that these are some of the challenges faced by both sides resulting to budget passage delay, in addition to over invoicing of contracts sum, for instance in a ministry’s budget where a whooping sum of N100 million was allocated to just one borehole. What manner of borehole? Another area of budget disagreement is the constituency projects of the lawmakers. This is one thorny issue which both arms have frequently disagreed with right from the former President Olusegun Obasanjo days.
Whichever way the arguments and the issues have turned, the nation deserves a quick budget and an implementable one.
Although both sides may be right in their opinions, we however, reject the undue delay in signing the appropriation bill into law.
Irrespective of its importance, it can still be later reviewed in the process of implementation or better still, Mr. President can submit a supplementary budget before the year runs out. Bearing this in mind and knowing that this is possible will save the nation from the current imbroglio.
Being the first budget to be submitted by the present administration, President Buhari should not expect the process to be like 32 years ago when he was military head of state. Things have changed. We are now in a democracy and rule of law. Things must follow due process. The era of ‘obey the last order’ as they say in military circles is gone. Hence, while the President has the right to prepare and submit budget to the legislature, the later has constitutional right to tinker with the estimates the way they believe would be for the good of the nation.
On another level, to avoid delays in passage as being experienced, we advise the executive to submit 2017 and subsequent budgets to the national assembly at least 3 months to end of each fiscal year, that is September. This will enable the legislature to do its work and pass the bill before the year runs out. For the budget to run a full course, it must start operating from 1st January each year.
Finally, we advise both arms of government to see each other as partner in progress and nation building and establish healthy working relationship for the greater interest of our country. They should use the budget as a tool for vengeance against each other.