By Gilbert Ekezie
Chris Azubogu is the Deputy Chairman, Committee on Appropriation in the House of Representatives. He represents Nnewi North/Nnewi South/ Ekwusigo Federal Constituency of Anambra State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He speaks on 2017 budget.
Why is the 2017 Appropriation Bill still pending?
Budget process as enshrine in the Fiscal Responsibility Act starts with the submission of the Fiscal strategic paper. And the Act made it very clear that the budget should be submitted around July and August, while the budget proposal itself should come before 30th of December and we should be given three months to do a detailed work. So, many things had happened with the present state of the economy. The 2017 Appropriation Bill needs thorough job and should not be done in a hurry.
Budget is a process and an annual ritual which must follow due process and you must follow those rituals to succeed. The time can be cut short but not to eliminate the process of making sure that what is needed to be done to give Nigerians a near perfect Appropriation Bill is achieved. If the executive proposed to present a budget before 30th November which they did not do until December 14, 2016, it won’t be an easy task for us to finish the process on time. That does mean we are not working on it.
For instance, the joint committee on Appropriation decided to involve citizens in this year’s budget when it organized Public Hearing so that Nigerians and critical stakeholders would make input. I believe that every Nigerian citizen is a stakeholder in the Nigeria project.
The exercise gave us time to commend and criticize the Appropriation Bill because all hands must be on deck to get Nigeria out of recession.
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola denied knowledge of certain amount contained in his ministry’s budget, could that be another case of budget padding?
Like I said earlier, budget is a sensitive document and changing it when passed is not easy. What the minister brought before the joint committee on Appropriation was a proposal and not a budget. Let me correct an impression, budget cannot be padded. Mr. Fashola may not have pre-information before the input was made hence the reason for late discovery. It may come to Nigerians as a surprise, but I’m not surprise because it is not a big task for one man to handle three ministries. Is Fashola a magician to know everything that is happening in the ministries? How can he? He can’t comprehend it. We took note of his complain and it is being looked into since the proposal is still with the National Assembly. Let us disabuse our mind from the word padding because when you are working on a document you may discover irregularities.
With the suspension of the former Chairman on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jubirin, who is presiding over the committee?
There is a substantive chairman in the person of Hon. Mustapha Dawaki and I’m the Deputy.
With the explanation you have given what should Nigerians expect from this year’s budget?
It is a budget of recovery, a budget of growth and hope. In this year’s budget, a midterm plan is being put together by the executive that would run from 2018 to 2020 and the budget draws its soul from the plan. The budget is aimed at bringing Nigeria out of recession and put the nation on the path of growth. That is why it is called budget for growth.
How can Nigerians believe these promises you are making when they did not feel the impact of last year’s budget?
Is it the National Assembly that is making the promises? Ours is to support the programmes of the executive to succeed. The duty of the legislature is to make laws for good governance of the nation. Because we are in a process of evolving our democracy we should not misrepresent facts. The legislature will not assume the duties of the executive neither will the executive assume the duty of the legislature. Ours is to make appropriation and pass it into law, but it is not within our powers to implement it. We are not making promises but backing the executive to succeed.
What are some of the challenges your committee is facing towards achieving a budget that will get the nation out of recession?
Part of the critical challenge we are going through is having enough revenue sources to implement the budget fully. The capital aspect of the budget has not been implemented 100 per cent and this has hindered Nigerians from feeling the impact of the past budgets. We are trying to convince states and local governments to choose programmes and projects that would impact positively on the people and also increase productivity in the key sectors of the economy such as agriculture and Agro processing through proper funding. Also manufacturing and solid mineral exploration, processing and infrastructure must be given adequate attention. Another challenge is the fall of revenue below expectation in the non-oil sectors which include revenue that comes from the Customs. So, we cannot raise money from the local economy to service budget deficit. Except the private sector grows the economy by creating employment, only then can you see the return of economic activity in the country. We really have to pump in money into the economy to boost economic activities through agriculture and private business participation. This, to me is the only way we can get out of recession.