With September 2019 already with us and October in the offing, will the executive fulfill its promise of early presentation of the 2020 budget proposals to the National Assembly for expeditious consideration and passage? TAIYE ODEWALE examines the possibilities.
The 2019 budget
Like the current N8.916 trillion 2019 budget, presented for consideration in December last year to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari and passed in April this year, almost every other yearly budgetary proposals within the last 20 years of democratic dispensation, has been presented lately by the executive and as well, considered and passed lately by the legislature with attendant disruption of January to December implementation cycle of yearly budgetary plans.
One of such worrisome scenarios was the N8.6trillion 2018 budget presented to the joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday,
7th November, 2017, but passed in May 2018, seven solid months after, even with additional estimates of about N500bn which made the entire budget proposals signed into law as 2018 Appropriation Bill to be N9.12trillion with attendant bickering between the two arms of government.
Moves to avert worries
But moves against such scenarios in the 2020 fiscal year have been made by the two affected arms of government through pronouncements to that effect by not only President Muhammadu Buhari but the leadership of the 9th National Assembly i.e, the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila at different fora before and after the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly in June this year.
Very persistent in making such assurances within the last four months, is Senator Ahmad Lawan before and after his emergence as President of the 9th Senate one of which was the one he made on Tuesday, 30th of July, 2019 after the confirmation of appointments of the 43 Hon Ministers by the Senate.
Lawan’s new approach promise
Lawan in his remarks that day said: “The Senate has demonstrated clearly that we are set to work for Nigerians, there is no doubt that that extension of time that ordinarily would have been part of our recess to stay back to do this job for our country.
“We have finished this very important national assignment and to the glory of God, we are proud to declare that as Senate and indeed National Assembly that we are prepared to closely work along with the executive in taking Nigeria to the next level.
“For those that have been confirmed by this Senate, the message is that they must be prepared to work with this Senate.
“We are going to engage them in our oversight and other legislative activities. What we want to achieve is to have a relationship that is based on mutual respect and truth.
“While we are not going to be frivolous, we are going to be firm, we are going to be serious with our oversight being the mechanism of ensuring that legislations made by us, particularly budget or Appropriation bills, are implemented as passed for the general benefits of Nigerians.
“In this respect, our desire and hope is that the 2020 Appropriation bill be presented to this National Assembly by the end of September or latest by the first week of October for the required expeditious consideration and passage.
“It is our determination and resolve to once the executive does its own part of early presentation of the budget proposals, we shall get it passed before embarking on Christmas break.
“It is doable, it is achievable and we believe that Nigerian should return back to the January-December budget cycle.
“Our economy must have predictable parameters. Our budget implementation is in chaos and in tatters, and I believe that together with the executive, we can return its implementation cycle to January – December of every year which is predictable and good for business”.
Even at different fora last month, including when he was on Holy pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Ahmad Lawan made series of sermonisation on the same message.
Is it realizable?
But with September already with us and October beckoning, will the executive be able to meet up with the set target going by the processes that must be followed, one of which is the 2020- 2022 Medium Term Expenditure Frame Work (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper ( FSP), that must be first forwarded by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly for approval.
MTEF/FSP documents entail rolling three year-expenditure framework which provides the basis for the preparation of the annual national budget based on required parameters and assumptions like oil price benchmark, oil production per day, exchange rate of Naira to US dollar, GDP growth rate etc.
Budget 2019 not aggressively executed
However going by remarks recently made by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige on preparation of the 2020 budget proposals, the executive seems to be on the same page with the Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila led 9th National Assembly for early presentation and expeditious consideration and passage.
Ngige in his remarks on implementation of the 2019 budgetary provisions and preparation of the 2020 budget proposals during his maiden meeting with staffers of the Ministry on Thursday , August 23, 2019 said: ” The 2019 budget has not been aggressively executed and 60 per cent of it will have to be rolled into the 2020 budget.
“We knew this during the presidential retreat that was organised for us at the Presidential Villa as Ministers – Designate then.
“We have been told to submit our budget to the National Assembly in September so that we can get it back by December. Senate President Ahmed Lawan is a man of his words that we can work with”.
With assurances from both ends on early presentation, consideration and passage of the 2020 budget proposals and period for such , already with us; Nigerians are no doubt waiting to see whether such assurances would be backed up with actions or not.
NASS ready for 2020 budget- Gbajabiamila
Perhaps, reemphasizing its readiness to do the needful and ensure the 2020 budget if presented is passed, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila has said National Assembly would pass 2020 Appropriation bill before end of the year if the executive presents it to the assembly before end of September.
Gbajabiamila made this known at a roundtable with heads of relevant government agencies, development partners and professionals bodies Tuesday in Abuja.
“We promised and we will deliver on our commitments to remove regulatory and policy bottlenecks so that businesses can thrive and our economy can attract new investment from within and outside our shores.
“We are determined to address the problems of our significant infrastructure deficits by funding critical infrastructure projects across the country.
“Working with the private sector to devise and implement effective strategies to encourage private sector investment in public works project,” he said.
The speaker, represented by the Deputy Speaker, Mr Idris Wase, said that the House of Representatives assumed office with a commitment to conduct holistic reforms, maintained that the reforms would ensure that government lived up to its responsibilities to the Nigerians.
NASS ever committed
The speaker expressed the assembly’s commitment to revamp national security and policy framework through implementation of a community policing strategy.
According to him, that will bring our citizens and our communities into an enduring partnership with the security agencies to jointly ensure that our communities are rid of the criminal elements.
Gbajabiamila said that the National Assembly Reform Roundtable is one of the platforms intended to be used to drive the process of reform across critical sectors. He said that healthcare, education, economy, national security, social justice and social welfare were top of the reform agenda.
He also said that the reform efforts, no matter how well-meaning or well-intentioned will often fail when there was insufficient support from the stakeholders and from the wider community. The lawmaker said that the roundtable existed among other reasons to serve as a vehicle for consensus building.
Gbajabiamila said that the responsibility to manage government expenditure through the appropriations process was the central power of the legislature.
He said that government intention to deliver on the promise of infrastructure development, insecurity, quality education and economic growth will not be met until a budget framework that adheres to the best practices of effective budget policy.
Gbajabiamila said that reforming the appropriations process would ensure greater accountability, improved budget implementation and achieve some level of certainty in the process.
He said that stakeholder should have in mind that in pursuing and delivering any honest reforms, we would often be called to make the hard choices.
He urged the stakeholders not to hesitate to challenge established practices in their submissions and deliberations.
September sacrosanct – Mustapha
Last June, the federal government had assured that the National Assembly will get the 2020 Appropriation Bill by September.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapaha, stated after the swearing in of ministers by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa. He said since the federal government now works with an agreeable leadership of the NASS, not one that would choose to frustrate its efforts, every necessary step would be taken to present the budget in September.
He charged the ministers to liaise with their permanent secretaries immediately to ensure early submission of the 2020 budget before the National Assembly resumes from its recess.
“I want to give some few information with regards to what we expect the honourable ministers to do immediately after the presidential address.
“You are expected to familiarise yourselves with the permanent secretaries of various ministries and within this period, set out to work particularly on the budget, and taking cognizance of the fact that we have assured the National Assembly that we are sending the budget immediately they return from the recess.
“Also within the period, by the time your portfolios are assigned, we will send out the ministerial mandate for you to review within two weeks with the permanent secretaries assigned to your ministries and attach your signatures and return for the purposes of safe keep and also monitoring and co-ordination.
He quoted extensively from Senate President Ahmed Lawan assurance that the NASS would endeavour to pass the budget by December if it receives same by September.
Mustapha said the Nigerian economic and indeed all facets of the nation’s development processes would be ignited and driven to a desirable level in the “Next Level” administration if the legislature stay true to its promise to work assiduously on the budget and ensure that all that needs to be done is done and within the time frame. The SGF expressed optimism that the much desired reversal of “the undesirable trend of the current budget cycle in Nigeria”, would be attainable if all hands are on deck.
“We need to work for a budget that will be passed by the National Assembly by December. That requires that we work assiduously with the executive arm of government, to have the budget laid before the National Assembly by the end of September, and for the National Assembly to lock up the whole of October this year for budget defence, so that it can be processed and passed before we go on Christmas break. It is doable, it is achievable and attainable.
“I’m sure if we are able to achieve that, Nigeria’s economy will witness a boost. Businesses in Nigeria will have something predictable to work with. I believe that together with the executive arm of government, we should be able to do this, as this is fundamental to us in the National Assembly, and I’m sure the executive arm is also looking forward to that,” he said quoting Lawan’s comment.
Another failed promise?
Recall that the immediate past Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, had promised that the Federal Government would revert to the January to December budget cycle, beginning with the 2020 national budget. He stated this in Abuja when he defended his ministry’s 2019 budget in the Senate.
Udoma expressed the executive’s willingness to comply with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 by submitting the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper to the National Assembly on time. He said it would be achieved by collaborating with the legislature.
He noted that the new arrangement would not only make planning easier for both the public and private sectors but would also ensure proper oversight by relevant committees of the National Assembly.
He said the delay in submitting and passing the 2019 budget was caused by both the executive and legislative arms of government which relegated governance to the back seat because politics occupied centre stage during the 2019 elections.
“I believe that going into 2020, this is a year that we should be able to achieve it. This is the year that we should be able to sit down with the National Assembly and achieve it. The President is determined to achieve it.
“We will be sitting down with the National Assembly so that we can achieve it. And we don’t need to do it by legislation. I think it is better to do it by cooperation, working together.”
The MTEF/FSP, an annual rolling three year-expenditure planning, sets out the medium-term expenditure priorities and provides the basis for the preparation of the annual national budget.
Specifically, Section 11 (b) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act stipulates that the MTEF/FSP be submitted to the National Assembly ‘not later than four months before commencement of the next financial year.’
However, analysts have argued that going by the way 2019 budget was handled and the fact that it took some eight months for it to be passed by the NASS, the planned reversal of the budget circle could after all be a mirage.