Following last week’s ultimatum on MDAs by the Senate, EZREL TABIOWO, identifies major concerns responsible for the delay of the 2018 appropriation bill before both chambers of the National Assembly.
Low budget implementation
Clearly disappointed by the low implementation of the 2017 budget by Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of government, Senators last year December threatened to suspend passage of the 2018 budget estimates following the failure of the presidency to keep its promise to implement, at least, 40 percent of the 2017 capital budget and roll over the remaining 60 percent to 2018.
Consequently, the Upper Chamber also accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic team of sloppiness, saying the ministries, departments and agencies appeared unprepared with verifiable documents to defend their respective 2018 proposals.
The lawmakers demanded that the 2017 budget implementation be extended to March 31 to allow for execution of capital projects, so as to enable commencement of the 2018 budget from April 1.
The threat followed points of order (42 and 45) moved by the Deputy Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah during plenary, who pointed out that the chamber would fall into trouble waters should it hastily pass the 2018 budget in spite of constraints embedded in the proposal as presented by the executive arm of government.
The lawmaker said: “By today, we would have passed the budget or given a tentative date on which we can pass it. From what I have seen, I know we will fall into trouble waters because, for whatever reason, we have not appreciated what the situation is.
“With the reports we have received so far, we have the 2017 budget which we can say has not been executed as of today and we are considering the 2018 budget.”
Another lawmaker, Senator Barnabas Gemade, said: “The president said more than 60 per cent of what was proposed in the 2017 budget would be carried over to the 2018 budget. But what we have seen is very far from this assertion.
“First of all, there is no clear indication whatsoever that 40 per cent of 2017 capital budget has been implemented. With many MDAs, that percentage is still hovering around 12 to 15 percent.”
Transparency and accountability
Worried by the failure of government agencies to account properly for sums released to it be the Finance ministry during the budget year, Senator Dino Melaye said: “There is an outstanding N1.4 trillion stamp duty that has accumulated with the Central Bank (CBN) but has not been remitted into the federation account.
“In 2016, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was supposed to pay over N300 billion as IGR into the federation account, but no kobo was paid and no kobo has been paid in 2017. All these revenues are hanging and we say we are fighting corruption.
“It is time for the senate to ask these agencies of government to remit such monies. Why are we borrowing when we have monies scattered in the MDAs. The issue of discussing 2018 budget does not arise. We must make sure that the 2017 budget is properly implemented.
“We keep hearing that more releases are made in order to implement the budget but up till now there is no prove whatsoever that the budget has been implemented beyond the 12, 15 percent that we knew in most MDAs.”
Non-compliance by MDAs
Sequel to its threat issued in December last year, the Senate on Wednesday last week gave a one week ultimatum to ministers, and the heads of departments and agencies of government, to appear before its relevant committees to defend their 2018 budget estimates.
The upper legislative chamber while accusing heads of MDAs of failure to appear to defend their respective budgets before relevant committees, said same was responsible for the delay in the passage of the N8.612 trillion national budget bill into law.
Accordingly, the Upper Legislative Chamber warned that the failure to adhere to its ultimatum would cause it to adopt the proposal submitted for such MDAs by the executive arm of government.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who laid the budget on November 7, 2017, had urged the National Assembly to pass the budget bill by January 2018.
This is in a bid to restore the budget cycle to January to December of every year.
The Senate, on at least two occasions, had raised the alarm that the ministers and heads of agencies do not honour invitations of its committee on the grounds that they are outside the country.
The Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji (Imo APC), said most sub-committees have been complaining about the attitudes of the MDAs, who have failed to properly defend their budget estimates.
“Since January, the Appropriations Committee’s doors have been opened to receiving reports from the sub-committees, but most of the sub-committees have a huge challenge with the MDAs because majority of the MDAs are not coming forward to interface with them.”
“Some of the ministers will tell you that they are going outside the country and because of that, the MDAs are not fully ready. So, we don’t have the reports yet,” Ogbuoji told the Senate.
“We believe that it is when the MDAs come forward, that our colleagues will be able to finish with their work. Some of the committees are unable to do their work. When the committees screen what the MDAs have brought, they will ask them to go back and work on them budgets and come back. But they don’t come back, and that is delaying the work on majority of the MDAs,” the senator added.
Saraki, in his remarks, said the impression being created in the public space is that the passage of the budget bill is being delayed by the National Assembly.
The Senate President, however, noted that officials who have refused to appear to defend their budgets cannot hold the country to ransom.
“We are giving them till the end of next week. I appeal to all these ministers and heads that keep on travelling. This is the time for them to sit on the ground and ensure that we can finish with these reports, so that these reports can be completed and submitted,” he said.
Senator Saraki added that the upper legislative house intends to pass the 2018 appropriation bill alongside the budgets of the 64 revenue generating agencies.