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As Senate Begins Debate On 2018 Budget



Contrary to a request by President Muhammadu Buhari, urging the National Assembly to pass the 2018 Appropriation Bill with dispatch, the lawmakers have picked holes, saying the entire budget is unrealistic. SOLOMON AYADO reports

Precisely on Tuesday,  November 7, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari presented before a joint session of the National Assembly the 2018 budget estimates of N8.6 trillion.

Submitting the executive bill,  Buhari had requested the lawmakers to expeditiously pass it before the end of December 2017.

While presenting the tagged ‘budget of consolidation’, he noted that “Nigeria is currently emerging from a very difficult economic period but if we all cooperate, and support one another, we can consolidate on our exit from the recession and firmly position Nigeria for economic prosperity.”

According to him,  all the projects presented within the budget have been carefully selected and subjected to extensive consultations and stakeholder engagements.

“As a Government, we are determined to bring succour to our people, improve their lives, and deliver on our promises to them. 2018 is a crucial year as we strive to ensure that we consolidate our successes and institutionalize the policies and practices that drove this turnaround. I appeal to you to swiftly consider and pass the 2018 Appropriation Bill,” Buhari stated.

In the open assumption of Mr.  President, he taught that the lawmakers will without delay, approve the budget proposal like a simple walk to the park. Also,  may be,  he definitely felt that the process of okaying the budget will be carried out without any encumbrances and or will be like Tea Party.

Surprisingly, the NASS is bent to act otherwise, insisting that time line request of the President would not be possible because the 2017 budget was still running and it would not be proper to truncate it in order to approve the money bill for the next fiscal year.

In this case, the NASS is posturing that the Buhari’s assumptions in the budget does not in any way tally with the obvious economic reality on ground.

The spokesman of the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North) in an interview, noted that as at the time President Buhari presented the new budget, the performance of the previous was at 10 per cent or below.

He said truncating the implementation of the 2017 budget by expeditiously passing the 2018 budget will give room for rampant cases of abandoned projects across the country.

His words: “Well, given the nature of the timing, it is definitely not feasible but this is to say that we have a budget because as at the time the budget was laid, the performance of the 2017 budget was just within 10 per cent or below.

“So, what we are expecting is, since we already have a budget that is a law, I think Nigerians should be concerned about how this is going to be implemented, so that at the end, the implementation activities under the 2018 will be a reflection of a continuum from 2017.I think also that since we want to encourage the private sector, what the National Assembly is saying is that it will be wrong for us to truncate an existing law.”

A pointer that all may not go well with the 2018 budget, the initial date the National Assembly had fixed to commence debate on the bill, particularly in the Senate, was shifted for a week, on crafty grounds of prioritizing passage of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).

Senate President Bukola Saraki made the announcement in plenary and had further explained that the deferment of the debate on the 2018 budget was to enable the Upper Chamber to adhere the National Assembly’s bureaucracy so as to distribute copies of the budget proposal to lawmakers.

On Tuesday, November 28, 2017 which is date NASS rescheduled to begin the budget debate, what appeared like a drama suddenly presented itself. The lawmakers who had assured the President of speedy passage of the bill became spiteful on the entire budget estimates. Although t is not yet sure whether their tacit criticisms is way of pulling stunts.

But while the Senate described the 2018 budget as imaginary and dead on arrival, the House of Representatives criticised the executive over what it termed “discouraging” implementation of successive budgets.

Many of the lawmakers who contributed to the debate across party lines, declared that N11trillion  collectible revenue proposed in the budget cannot in any way be met, going by previous years experience and called for increase in the oil price bench mark from $45 to $50per barrel.

Leading the debate, Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, in his submission noted that all the estimates in the 2018 budget are laudably tailored towards meeting the critical needs of the country, especially at the current democratic evolution and the economy emerges from recession hence the need to pass it for second reading.

But pouring the first volume of venom,  Senator Enyinaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South) described the projections in the budget as fictitious and imaginary.

According to him, since the 2018 budget is projected to consolidate on the gains made by the 2017 budget and the 2017 budget performance percentage is just about 15%, automatically the 2018 budget proposals are done on wrong projections.

For Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, there is nothing of consolidation as tagged by Buhari but rather a budget of active imagination.

Senator George Akume (Benue North West) posited that passing the budget will send wrong signals internationally if the world understands that the budget of the country is based on $45 per barrel especially when the product sells above $60 per barrel in the oil market.

Also Senator Joshua Lidani (PDP Gombe South), said the proposals and projections in the budget as far as expected revenues are concerned , is nothing but building on quick sand and very weak foundation.

And to Senator Abubakar Yusuf ( APC Taraba North), whether the President ever gives any of the budget proposals prepared for him  by bureaucrats before presenting them to the National Assembly going by the yearly heavy shortfalls in revenue projections is a thing to ponder because, he said,  it is simply unrealizable.

For instance, the Chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Production Services , Mr . Mohammed Monguno , said lawmakers were usually not excited looking forward to budget debates because of lack of implementation of the previous ones.

Monguno said, “The problem is the implementation.When we pass the proposals, they are left without implementation; the next year, another one is brought again.There must be a problem somewhere , which must be solved.”

Meanwhile, the Deputy President of the Senate , Senator Ike Ekweremadu stated that without maximal revenue generation by relevant government agencies , there would not be adequate funds to finance expenditures. He said , “We must point out in the course of the debate how we will be able to reduce the deficit.

Be that as it may, the budget debate has commenced but with heavy kicks from lawmakers who the executive firmly had seemingly believe cannot but pass the bill without any further delay.

Of course, President Buhari had while submitting the budget, commended the immense, patriotic and collaborative support of Distinguished and Honourable Members of the National Assembly in the effort to move the great nation forward. He assured them of the strong commitment of the Executive branch to deepen the relationship with the Legislature.

Although with the recent budget debate outing, it is somewhat a clear signal that the NASS is not ready to mince or tolerate the shortcomings of the executive. Also, it is a sharp pointer that the lawmakers cannot be seemingly rubber-stamped to shy from calling a spade by its real name.

One thing that is worrisome to pundits is whether the submission, passage and implementation of the budget will be devoid of political manourverings. According to them,  in a country where politics has taken the center stage and financial inducement has become the propelling norm, it is not sure whether the case of the 2018 budget will be any exception.

At the moment, no one is completely convinced that the legislative members who are now vehemently chanting protest songs will, sooner or later, be singing hellelluyah for the executive. The obvious is that the lawmakers must be seen to be consistently defending a cause that has the overall interest of the generality of people and in this case,  a stable and viable national economy.

As it stands, the budget debate is continued and whether the executive  will employ a politicking propeller tactic to succeed in lowering the loud voices in NASS and make the ‘unrealistic assumptions’ to eventually become reality, only time will tell.