9th National Assembly and budget cycle

The incoming members of the National Assembly had an induction programme organised for them by the National Assembly management. It started on Monday, March 25. It was an important meeting aimed at equipping them with the basic knowledge of the workings of the National Assembly and their roles as members of the law-making arm of the government. The induction came in the backdrop of an unhealthy lack of cooperation between the legislature and the executive branches that was crafted by a section of the outgoing eighth National Assembly ostensibly to cripple the activities of the executive arm. Their feet-dragging in processing any request forwarded to them for consideration by the executive arm is legendary. The faction of members of the National Assembly led by the outgoing senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Yakubu Dogara, the outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives, not only refused to approve proposed appointments of members of various government institutions submitted for confirmation, they similarly skipped timely approval of budgetary proposals from the executive arm. The trend was, with the benefit of hindsight, part of wider efforts by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to cripple the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari by blocking the implementation of its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). The ERGP is designed to obliterate the decay left behind by the previous PDP administration that was defeated in a free and fair election in 2015. Because of the activities of the Saraki-Dogara-led eighth National Assembly, Nigeria probably became the only country in the world that has no firm date on which its national budget will be approved by the parliament, thus creating uncertainty in making decisions that could spur economic activities, especially in a country where public spending is a major element in stimulating economic buoyancy.

The National Assembly, which has the constitutional power of appropriation, has consistently delayed the passage of the country’s budget since 2014, mainly for reasons that are generally perceived by Nigerians and the country’s development partners around the world as unhealthy and lacking in the spirit of patriotism. It is instructive that  the consistent delay   in passing budgets every year by the National Assembly has nothing to do with any real lapses in the budget. This is so because the budget proposals are normally in compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. The executive always submits the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper to the National Assembly in good time and obtains approval for both prior to laying the budget proposals before members of the National Assembly in a joint session. Invariably, delaying the budget has disastrous effect   on individual citizens, corporate bodies and other stakeholders in the national economy. All of them cannot plan or take economic decisions with certainty, especially in cases where their businesses need to have some idea of new policies in the ensuing financial year. In addition to delaying investment decisions by domestic investors and businesses, foreign investors too who might have seen potential areas of investment in any proposed budget might become hesitant and direct their monies to jurisdictions where different arms of government work in tandem for their national economic progress.

The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms Christine Legarde, had to intervene during one of the habitual destructive budget delays in 2016 by calling on members of the National Assembly to reconsider their negative tactics and pass the budget: “We believe that it’s really important that budget be completely decided and approved”. No investors will be comfortable with a political environment in which rancour and disharmony based on excessive political squabbling among the key economic policy-makers is rampant and continuous. It is sad that the seventh and eighth National Assembly have earned the negative record of refusing to timely pass the budgets presented to it by the executive arm, mainly for selfish reasons.

Some of the consequences of their refusal to timely work on the budget include lowering productivity, slowing down economic growth and unhealthily postponing the implementation of capital projects. Those involved in engineering such impasse were allegedly doing so in order either to extort bribe money from representatives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), or just to execute a failed desire to  cripple the administration and prevent it from earning the respect, confidence and loyalty of the citizenry by implementing projects and programmes. They delay or even cancel budgetary provisions for public goods and services that have direct bearing on the well being of the citizens, especially health-care, education for children and youth, water supply, national security and public safety, infrastructure development and other essential government services, simply to spite a president and weaken his political status and popularity in the country. Their activities could be perceived by many people as inciting the citizenry against the government, which turned out to be a futile scheme. More than 15 million Nigerians re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term, thus resoundingly affirming their respect, support and appreciation for his patriotism and unimpeachable integrity.

Mindful of the recent announcement by the federal government on reverting to the time-tested January-December budget cycle, the incoming ninth National Assembly should not tread the old negative path of Saraki-Dogara leadership by their refusal to pass federal budget proposals in good time, or as it was later discovered, padded it for personal gains. One of the best and effective ways to serve their constituents and by extension, the whole nation, is for the new members to come up with an agenda that completely shuns the penchant for using the budget proposals and other requests for legislative endorsement from the executive as bargaining chips for achieving selfish political interests. They will earn the respect of Nigerians by swiftly scrutinising and approving such requests as a matter of legislative priority.

Dambatta is a former director in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja.

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