“An end is only a beginning in disguise” -Craig D. Lounsbrough
Governments world over, including Kaduna state, consider budgets as very critical for socio-economic development. Hence, the budgeting process in Nigeria is guided by several legal frameworks – the 1999 Constitution, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007 (FRA 2007), Annual Appropriations Act, the Federal Audit Act of 1956, Public Procurement Act of 2007, the Finance (Control and Management) Act of 1958, Cap. 144, 1990. It’s without dispute, that budget is not just central to economic development, but remains the main vehicle for actualising it through resource mobilisation and judicious allocation.
By making budgets work for the people, through realistic projections and disciplined implementation, Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i of Kaduna state has proven the effectiveness of budgets to create conducive environment that will empower the people to achieve their full potential. He equally restored confidence in government and in the credibility of budgets as veritable tool for socio-economic development. Previously, citizens routinely questioned the purpose(s) of budget, or regarded them as mere annual rituals, due to the failure of previous budgets to meet their expectations.
It’s to El-Rufai’s credit, that his government clearly understood that if a budget fails, it means the government has failed to meet the genuine yearnings of the people. A failed budget is tantamount to inability of government to expand access to potable water, create functional schools, improve access to healthcare, or make meaningful effort towards the resolution of fundamental issues of governance. A pragmatic El-Rufai knew his administration would have been a colossal failure if he failed to develop annual budgets that deliver on their promises.
Even though Nigerians hardly hold their governments accountable, nor do they bother to make inputs into the budget process, budgets are, nonetheless, considered a serious business, hence failure to implement them has legal consequences.
The bane of budgets of most states, including the federal government, is the late preparation and lackadaisical implementation. Budget implementation, the actual expenditure or application of public funds in carrying out the activities of government as captured in the budget, more than the estimates themselves, is the most important component in the process. So long as budgets are poorly implemented, so long the “lofty” objectives of good roads, modern healthcare facilities, good schools, reduction in high level of unemployment and the poor standard of living, will remain pipe dream, year in, year out.
Because El-Rufai placed utmost importance in the early preparation and implementation of budgets, and adopted the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), and subscribed to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the only sub-national government to do so, in spite of the attendant high demands of transparency and accountability in the entire budgeting process, the state has made significant progress. It can boast of a strong economy in spite of the recession and COVID-19 pandemic, reformed institutions, reviewed laws, world class infrastructure, record number of new businesses and jobs, strong leadership, and budgets that weigh heavily in favour of capital expenditure.
Budgets are about hard choices. Kaduna state must count itself lucky that the present governor isn’t the usual Nigerian politician, who typically over promises, who for fear of being defeated in the next election shies away from undertaking urgent reforms, and so woefully under-performs. Reform is a road worth taking, as can be seen from the results of the vigorous reforms of the budgetary process, a tool that El-Rufai has successfully deployed to hold “consumption hostage”.
By 2016, Kaduna state had a recurrent expenditure of N62 billion and a whopping N171.7 billion for capital expenditure a 36: 64 percent recurrent to capital ratio, initially considered huge, but this paled into insignificance once the trend positively continued. By 2020, the state had achieved an unprecedented capital to recurrent ratio of 73.7:26.3 percent; N190 billion for capital expenditure and a modest N67.87 billion recurrent expenditure. By 2019, the impressive budget performance continued with the actual spending of N148.57 billion of the N152.33 billion budgeted on capital projects, representing 97.5 percent success.
Malam El-Rufai, like President Joe Biden of America, believes in the philosophy of “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value”. This explains his commitment to efficient service delivery and desire to help the citizens of Kaduna state achieve their full potential. Rather than lament the rot he inherited, like former President Ronald Reagan, he aggressively embarked on massive spending cuts that ushered in a pro-people budget, which has accelerated economic growth and unprecedented infrastructural development far beyond the expectations of skeptics.
Without any iota doubt, Governor El-Rufai is emotionally and psychologically prepared for the inevitable closing of the doors, for the final chapter as the governor of Kaduna state. Before the presentation of the 2022 budget, his second to the last budget, he had taken several steps towards life after government house. Having etched himself into the consciousness of the people of Kaduna state by dint of hard work and good governance, he won’t only be leaving on a high note, but with shoes that might be too large for his successor to fill.
It’s encouraging that in spite of his spectacular achievements, El-Rufai doesn’t seem to be in the mood to slow down just yet. He is giving his all for the last few months. Kaduna state citizens should expect same premium to be placed on human capital development, infrastructure projects, considering his desire to maintain Kaduna state’s competitiveness, to support economic dynamism, with the ultimate goal of creating jobs and the well-being of the citizens of the state.
Ultimately, the benchmarks on which El-Rufai would be assessed is not in the regular payment of salaries of the public servants, even though he religiously does that mundane stuff. He’ll be judged by his commitment to promote equality of opportunity, accelerate human capital development, attain fiscal viability, and reduction of inequality, the eternal covenant that is encapsulated in the Putting People First Agenda and the continued prioritisation of capital spending for key sectors like education, health and infrastructure.
Ado writes from Kaduna.