AT a time that many Nigerians and foreign investors are looking forward to President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the 2016 Budget and the commencement of its implementation, the financial document remains deeply mired in the controversy raging between the Presidency and the National Assembly. This is the second time in less than three months that the budget has become a subject of intense disagreement between the two arms of government. At the receiving end of this unfortunate standoff are the people and economy of Nigeria. Many businesses which rely on the budget to take informed decisions and chart directions for their activities have been in a quandary as the budget crisis rages.
The first indication of controversy over the 2016 Appropriation Bill followed the startling discovery by the National Assembly that the N6.06 trillion budget was riddled with errors, omissions and alterations. The lawmakers said that they discovered considerable “padding” of the document, with staggering N668.8 billion expenditure provisions that were “frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful.”
As a result, both chambers of the National Assembly reportedly embarked on a detailed appraisal of the document to correct its lapses. However, the nation heaved a sigh of relief a few weeks ago when the National Assembly eventually passed the Appropriation Bill and sent it for the president’s assent for it to become law. But, the president withheld his assent, alleging that the document given to him contained strange additions and alterations that were not in the original Appropriation Bill sent to lawmakers.
This has brought new twists to the budget controversy, with the two arms of government trading blames. The Presidency insists that the National Assembly has tinkered with the budget by moving funds away from critical infrastructure to less important projects such as building of town halls, purchase of tricycles and construction of rural roads.
It is not clear how much was tinkered with by the lawmakers but a conservative estimate put it at over N200 billion. One of the sore issues in the current impasse is that of constituency projects, which the lawmakers allegedly raised from N60bn to N100bn. The Presidency has also claimed that the lawmakers padded over N4bn into the budget of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), while the recurrent expenditure of the bureau was allegedly upped by another N224 million.
While the Senate has accused the Presidency of “gross incompetence, arrogance and lack of coordination” in its handling of the budget, and the non-inclusion of the multi-billion Lagos-Calabar rail line project in the original document presented to the National Assembly, contrary to its claims, there are other contentious issues in this impasse.
Altogether, the handling of the 2016 Budget by the Presidency and the National Assembly is bad news for Nigerians. The impasse on the crucial bill has profound consequences for the nation. It is capable of reducing the confidence of the people in the document.
We urge the two arms of government to realise that two wrongs do not make a right. They should move quickly to resolve this impasse because the budget is too important a document to be trifled with. The national budget shapes policy and sets the direction for the economy. No sustainable growth can take place in the economy without effective implementation of the budget.
The nation’s economy is already in the doldrums. Any further delay in the president’s assent to the budget and the implementation of the document will further worsen the state of the Nigerian economy. It is unfortunate that the budget, since its inception, has been trailed by controversies.
While we seek a quick resolution of this impasse, the legislature and the Executive should know their duties and limits under the constitution, particularly as they relate to the budget. While the legislature has the right to appropriate, it should realise that it cannot initiate new projects in a budget already prepared and submitted to it by the Executive. That is the right of the Executive arm of government. The budget is the document of the Executive. Therefore, any attempt to alter, pad or smuggle in projects not in the original budget is pure mischief that can only serve selfish interests. Such personal gains do not serve the national interest.
Sadly, the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) presided over by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, last Thursday, failed to resolve the issue.
We, therefore, urge the two arms of government to resolve this matter as quickly as possible, in the best interest of the country. The Presidency should bear in mind that under section 81 (4) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, the President is required to sign the budget and kick-start its implementation. The Presidency should also be mindful of the fact that under section 80 (2) of the Constitution, no money should be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund after the subsisting budget has run its full course, except through a supplementary budget. The possibility of a government shutdown looms large if this impasse is allowed to linger.
With time fast running out on the 2015 Budget which is about to run its full course, time is of essence in resolving all grey areas in the 2016 Budget. Let this impasse be done away with so that the implementation of the budget can begin in earnest.