AFTER months of delays, debates, shocking discoveries of alleged ‘padding’ and correction of omissions, the National Assembly last Wednesday passed the 2016 Appropriation Bill totaling N6.06 trillion. The amount is, however, N17 billion less than the N6.07trn proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly.
The bill, which has now been sent to the President for his assent, will be the first Federal Budget to be passed by the National Assembly without increasing the proposed fiscal estimates in recent years. The final passage of the budget may have laid to rest the numerous controversies that trailed it, so the ball is now in the court of the president for his assent and the much expected implementation.
We, therefore, urge the President to quickly give his assent to the bill so that Nigerians will begin to see the benefits of the budget which has been tagged “Budget of Change”. The economy is in dire need of a lift from the present doldrums that have seen various sectors in negative territory. Effective implementation has always been the Achilles heel of our national budgets. This should not be allowed to be the case with the 2016 Budget.
A breakdown of the sectoral allocations as passed by the National Assembly does not show a remarkable difference from what the president proposed. The budget is predicated on $38 per barrel benchmark as well as N197/$1 exchange rate.
However, in terms of capital spending plan, the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing has the highest vote of N422,964,928,495. It was followed by the Ministry of Transportation which had a vote of N188,674,679,674, while Defence got N130.8bn.
Under recurrent expenditure, the Ministry of Interior got the highest allocation of N451.9billion, followed by Education with N367.7bn. Other allocations under the recurrent spending plan are Defence, N321bn and Health, N221.4bn. Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki said the reduction in the size of the budget was to reduce the level of deficit and make the budget realistic and implementable. He may be right.
Capital expenditure in the budget was voted N1.060 trn, while recurrent expenditure was reduced by N2.2bn from the President’s proposed N2.648 trn to N2.646trn. The Senate, however, retained the figure of N351,370,000,000 proposed by the President for statutory transfer, and N1.475,320,000,000 for debt service.
The Upper Legislative House, without dissent, also adopted all the budget assumptions proposed by the Presidency, such as the oil benchmark of $38 per barrel and daily crude oil production of 2.2 million barrels.
It is commendable that despite the obvious schism between the National Assembly and the Presidency, there was cooperation that led to the eventual passage of the bill before the expiration of the constitutional mandate of March 31 for the 2015 Budget to run its full course.
In that regard, we remind the President that his prompt assent is of great importance. Expectations are high that the executive arm will take into due consideration the areas that will support local production of goods, in order to diversify and revive the economy. We cannot wait any longer to give the ailing economy the necessary boost. Already, inflation has reached double digit at 11.4 percent, the first time in over three years. This has exceeded Central Bank of Nigeria’s projected ceiling of 9 percent. Many critical sectors of the economy, such as power, health and education, are ailing. We also need to increase employment opportunities, security and social infrastructure, by giving them the necessary push, to restore the people’s confidence in the government.
We urge the President to do these urgently. Nigerians are becoming impatient for the much-anticipated ‘change’. Confidence in governance is key, and good implementation of the budget is a key instrument to restore confidence and stimulate the beleaguered economy and other social infrastructure such as housing, health and education, among other enablers.
Moving forward, it is expected that the President and his cabinet have learnt useful lessons from the avoidable lapses in the preparation of the budget. The executive arm of goverment should put all necessary machinery in place to prevent a recurrence of this embarrassing situation in future.
One way to avoid a repeat of the mistakes is to prepare the budget early so that the National Assembly will also have ample time to consider it in details.
All said, the implementation of the budget will prove how well President Buhari can use the budgeting exercise to improve the lives of Nigerians, put the economy in a good condition and shape social policy. The National Assembly has done its job. It is now left for the President to do his. Effective implementation of the 2016 Budget is the answer.