From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
Timothy Golu is the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Budget and Research. He explains how the Federal Government could greatly improve the implementation of the national budget, starting with the 2017 Appropriation Bill. He also shared his views on the negative reactions over the N10 billion increase in the budget of the National Assembly.
How implementable is the 2017 budget judging by the basic parameters?
The budget as passed by the National Assembly is very much implementable. We sat down, analysed the Mid Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper which serves as a guide to the implementation of the full budget. As you would have seen, we increased the Oil Benchmark Price by two dollars because we feel that the size of the budget needed to be bigger to take on the challenge of dealing with infrastructural deficit. We did it with confidence that the international oil price cannot fall any lower and the price has gone above $50 and we will still have money to save in the Excess Crude Account (ECA).
In fact, the minister of Finance should be able to tell us how much we have in the ECA, because the 2016 budget had $38 as benchmark. Then, the 2.2 million barrels per-day production as envisaged in the MTEF and captured in the budget is also realistic, God is helping us as the crisis in the Niger-Delta region is reducing and by God’s grace we are getting to that target of production. So it is now the duty of the Executive to implement this budget the right way and with the speed Nigerians would appreciate because the speed at which the 2015 and 2016 budget were implemented was just too poor.
So, now we expect the Executive to release funds immediately for the
2017 budget. In fact, we expect the Acting President to sign the budget in a week because most of the work on the budget was done with the consent of the Executive. It shouldn’t be so, but this was done for the progress of our country. That’s why I expect the Acting President to sign the budget within a short frame of time and the Federal Government must ensure massive and I mean massive release of funds for capital projects to overcome inflation. With massive release of funds, we can implement this budget between now and December and I must add that the Executive should also start working towards submitting the 2018 budget proposal to the National Assembly by September.
Aside from releasing funds massively, what other lessons can we learnfrom 2016 to improve on the implementation of the 2017 budget?
The lesson is that, if we don’t release funds on time, budget implementation will suffer. If there is selective implementation of the budget, like when the Finance minister gives the excuse that there is no money, then implementation will remain at a low level. Once the budget is passed it becomes law and therefore must be implemented. If it is the issue of deficit, government can borrow locally or internationally. They submitted a proposal that they are going to use recovered (looted) funds to augment the deficit, before they made such proposal it must have been verified. If you bring such a proposal into the budget and it fails, that means that the assumptions weren’t made based on the facts on ground.
You have talked about how the Executive can improve on the entire budgeting process. But how the National Assembly improves on the pace of working on the budget and returning it to the Executive on time is also an issue. How is that going to work?
The National Assembly doesn’t delay the budget. But we take our time to look at the document, word by word. It is a serious business working on the budget. If we do a shabby job, the same people will turn around to criticise us. The National Assembly is conscious of Eagle eye of the public more than ever; there are processes in handling the budget and we have to observe these processes. I said earlier that if the Executive can submit the MTEF on time and within this period work on submitting the 2018 budget, I tell you the National Assembly will go to work and we will pass it. All we need to do is scrutinise what is submitted, we do this through oversight. We have gone out and seen some projects which haven’t been implemented with the excuse of lack of funds, while there are projects that haven’t been implemented, despite the release of funds for them, some they blame the situation on contractors. Ideally the National Assembly should have a team of experts who can scruitinise projects for proper checks and balances. Unlike the Executive that has a large bureaucracy, the National Assembly must work with what it can muster.
And when you say we need more funds, they say, no don’t give them.
The budget of the National Assembly has been increased by N10 billion and this hasn’t gone down well with the public. Can you justify the increase?
Let me tell you, we have so many things we need to do in the National Assembly. I just told you how the National Assembly could have done even much more with a better funded process of oversight. How about National Assembly staff, we are talking about increase in the minimum wage, why shouldn’t our staff also benefit from this?
How about legislative aides and even us the lawmakers? We are all affected by the economic situation. Do you how many public hearings that couldn’t be held due to paucity of funds? What is the use of the House passing motions that prayed for investigation and you cannot hold a public hearing with experts and key stakeholders? Without appropriate funding the Legislature may end up doing things half way. Democracy is expensive in any part of the world.