Thursday October 7th, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari presented before a joint session of the National Assembly, the 2022 fiscal year’s budget estimates, leaving an expected aggregate expenditure of over N13trillion. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on the House of Representatives’ pledge of an exhaustive consideration of the document
The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007 makes it mandatory that a Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP), covering the immediate coming year and the successive two must be prepared by executive arm of the federal government, and same approved by the National Assembly as prelude to presentation of the coming year’s budget.
While the Senate weeks before President Buahri laid the 2022 budget estimates last week, passed its own version of the MTEF/FSP, the House of Representatives inexplicably failed to do same, even with report of the Hon. James Faleke-led Committee on Finance on the document repealed listed on the Order Paper for consideration, but severally stepped down.
The controversial review request
When Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, therefore, read out a communication from President Buhari last Tuesday, asking for a review of certain indices in the MTEF/FSP which the House was waiting to pass, issues were raised, mainly by members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Buahri had among other things in the letter addressed to the Speaker, explained that the review was necessitated by the need to reflect the new fiscal terms in the Petroleum Industry Act, as well as other critical expenditures in the 2022 budget.
The President had further explained that the PIA establishes a fiscal framework aimed at encouraging investment in the Nigerian petroleum industry, and that “this significantly altered the fiscal terms and has necessitated changes in the 2022-2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework.
Opposition Reps kick
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila who read the said letter in an abridged manner had concluded in a personal remark that the request would be referred to the House Committee on Finance, adding that the President was most likely to lay the budget before a joint session of the parliament on Thursday. This was sparked off reactions from some opposition lawmakers.
Citing Order 12, Rule 19 of the House’s Standing Orders, Hon. Nicholas Osai of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reminded the Speaker that the MTEF was like a money Bill, which must go through all stages required of such a document before it is passed, insisting that at the second reading stage, the Bill must be debated before it is sent to the relevant committee for further legislative work. “As a tradition, it is part of our rules”, he submitted.
But the Speaker told him that “I believe we have passed that stage”, and that the president was only seeking amendment to the document. “What we debate normally is the general principles, but in this case, the general principles have not changed”, he noted and read out a line from the President’s letter where he wrote that macro economic indices had not changed.
“I don’t know what you want us to debate again so you are ruled out of order”, Gbajabiamila carpeted Osai.
Yet undaunted, Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, also insisted that such a Bill by the rules had to be to be debated, with any member willing to speak to be allotted at least five minutes to do so. “You just read a letter to us, and there are changes to the MTEF. For us to pass it between now and Thursday, it may seem that we’re very hasty. We need to look at the details and know how the changes affect our constituents before we pass it”, Elumelu insisted, but was yet ruled out of order by Gbajabiamila.
A seeming alternative was to be offered by Hon. Onofiok Luke, who instead requested that copies of the amendment be made available to members on that Tuesfay, to enable each of them study the alterations, so they can make informed contributions. On the request, the Speaker subsequently directed Clerk of the House to make sure members get the copies.
Back in session on Wednesday, the Speaker after the day’s prayer asked that a motion be moved for the House to go into closed door session. In an apparent suggestion that some horse trading may have been done during the executive session, to calm all frayed nerves, the request was seamlessly adopted when the doors were thrown opene. He had earlier read a communication from the President, requesting a 12noon slot on Thursday, to lay the 2022 budget estimates.
With the MTEF/FSP hurdle scaled, President Buhari was before a joint session of the National Assembly last Thursday to present his budget estimates. Tagged “Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability”, the President explained that the 2022 to 2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper sets out the parameters for the 2022 Budget as follows: Conservative oil price benchmark of 57 US Dollars per barrel; daily oil production estimate of 1.88 million barrels (inclusive of Condensates of 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day); Exchange rate of four 410.15 per US Dollar; and Projected GDP growth rate of 4.2 percent and 13 percent inflation rate, leaving the aggregate expenditure at N16.39 trillion.
Promised exhaustive work
With the estimates before the parliament, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila offered a promise to Nigerians to the effect that the House of Representatives under his leadership, will ensure exhaustive scrutinization of the budget proposals presented by President Buhari.
“We will demand a thorough accounting for the funds previously appropriated, disbursed and expended. And we will take steps to hold to account those who fail to provide the records we need to make informed decisions on the Appropriation Bill. This is the responsibility of the National Assembly, and we will live up to it”, he said.
According to hm, the reforms introduced by the 9th Assembly in the appropriations process, “including establishing a January to December budget cycle, improving oversight procedures, and ensuring greater fidelity to the letter and spirit of our appropriation laws, have led to measurable improvements in public infrastructure, access to education and housing, healthcare and transportation, amongst others”.
He said, “These improvements, which have had a positive impact on the lives of millions of Nigerians across the country, inspire us to do more”, adding that innovations in technology, the changing nature of global trade, the challenges of cross-border insecurity and the increasing interdependence of nations have continued to “present challenges we must overcome and opportunities we must embrace”.
Hoping on the deliverables
In terms of timeliness, many have expressed satisfaction that the estimates have been laid at a good enough time for the parliament to pass before the Yuletide break, but worries are still rife with the huge deficit in the proposed budget, and the plan of the President to yet, go borrowing to to fund same. More worries were also on the initial opposition to the hurriedly passed MTEF amendment. To such analysts, it is expected that the House pay deep attention to the borrowing plans, as well as act in unison to producing a workable budget.