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NLC Flays Late Passage Of 2018 Budget



Organised Labour has chided the National Assembly for the late  passage of 2018 budget describing it  as dangerous and unhealthy for the economy even as it shed lights on the possible impact and way forward. OLAJIDE FABAMISE, reports.

Although the National Assembly recently passed the 2018 bugdet and await its assent by the President, the delay in passing the document has continued to engender reactions with the organised labour faulting the lawmakers. It would be recalled that the document spent months with the lawmakers  before its eventual passage. Indeed, the  intention of the President, in presenting the budget document to the lawmakers was to use the budget to  return the country back to the normal financial year that starts in January and ends in December, but it appears this year’s budget is going to go the way of the previous years.

What this implies is that, Nigerians will have to wait a bit longer before this year’s budget could see the light of day.

In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP, the stakeholders said the late passage which arose  from the lingering impasse between the executive and legislature has affected the nation’s development. They describe the situation as unfortunate.

General Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, said the late passage of the 2018 budget was rather unfortunate.

According to him, it is rather unfortunate that we are talking of the late passage of the budget at this time, saying this is a budget for 2018 which ought to have started on Jan. 1, 2018.

“We are in May, already into the second quarter and the budget is still not passed so, we cannot even say definitely when it will be passed.

“The budget is supposed to among other things show the direction of the economic policies for the year, which will then influence the economic planning by economic agents, both in the private and the public sector.

“Because in the economy, people response to the economy of the budget, so by the beginning of the second quarter, we still have not had the budget passed or sign, it means that they are having economic function without direction.

“This does not help the economic performance of the country and I think it is rather sad.

“Whatsoever, whosoever that are responsible for the delay, I think they have to be called to order in the interest of the country and the budget needs to be passed and sign, ‘’he said.

The NLC General Secretary also said the Federal Government needs to break away from the usual delay in the budget passage by instituting a sacrosanct budget circle.

Ozo-Eson said if the budget circle was in place and the budget passed in the beginning of the period, it would be healthy for the economy.

He said the budget circle in place would also encourage the growth of the economy and allow the people to plan economically ahead of time.

He, however, called on the Federal Government to ensure the quick passage of the budget to savage the economy situation in the country.

Ozo-Eson also added that the delay in the passage of the budget will affect the effective performance of the budget.

“Therefore, poor budget performance is the outcome of this type of situation, ‘’he added.

The Secretary General, Nigeria Textile, Comrade Issa Aremu said the implication of this is that the national economy may not grow as fast as it should while some of the gains of the past may be reversed if the government is not able to fully back its policy with action.

He said this could hinder implementation of projects critical to economic diversification.

Looking at the implications of national budget approval delay on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ he said the release of funds for execution of capital projects are also delayed when budget approval is delayed.

He said: “Businesses attach a great deal of importance to government budget. It gives businesses the strategic direction of government. Budget delay gives a wrong signal to investors and creates an impression that the country is not a serious place to do business. When government budget is delayed, business activities are also delayed.

“Most counties ensure that the budget approval and implementation take place on scheduled dates, and we have full time legislators whose key mandate is budget approval, aside law making and other oversight functions.”

He advised that the executive and the legislative arms of government should meet and agree on a fixed date for budget approval, and that the agreed timetable be made public.

Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) said the development is capable of dragging the nation into a state of inertia.

The Director General, NECA, Mr. Segun Oshinowo said such development gives Nigeria bad image before the comity of nations.

Oshinowo wondered why those responsible with the drafting and passing the budget would not complete and pass budget before the beginning of any fiscal year.

He said: “It appears to have become a tradition in this democratic dispensation for the budget to be unduly delayed thereby plunging the economy into a state of inertia, particularly in the first quarter of the year.

“In December 2016, the President presented the 2017 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly. However, the National Assembly did not pass the bill until May 11, 2017, almost six months after it was presented. We recollect that President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018 budget to our Legislators in November, 2017.

“The inability of the National Assembly and executive to produce the 2018 budget is saying something silently loud about our country. I think it is shameful that there is no budget four months into the year.

He implored the two arms of government   to mutually agree on a time frame that would ensure that the budget for the following year is passed into law before the end of every current fiscal year.

Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Mr. Eze Onyekpere said the delay in the passage of the 2018 budget is impacting negatively on the economy.

Onyekpere said the impact was being felt negatively as the budget was required by public and private sector stakeholders to plan and manage their economic activities.

“The delay compounds the already parlous economic situation and shows a country that is afloat and without a focused leadership at both the executive and legislative levels.”

Similarly, Mr. Atiku Samuel, the Head of Research, BudgIT Nigeria, said lack of a budget calendar, lack of coordination and lack of planning were the major reasons for the setback.

According to him, during the budget formation phase, the executive and legislators and other stakeholders should have been consulted and actions point agreed on to avoid such delay.

“However, not much is done by the executive to carry the legislators along.

“As such, issues on the budget framework, lack of details, frictions between the legislators and executive and how the legislators process information differs from how the executive process information.

“In all, the lack of coordination cumulates into a bigger issue that has delayed the passage of the budget among other issues,” he said.

NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba called on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of national budget in the interest of the nation. Wabba said the passage of the budget was over delayed.

He said lack of synergy between the Executive and the National Assembly had been responsible for the delay in the passage of the 2018 budget.

According to Wabba, the implication of not passing the budget four months into the year translates into the delay in delivering on infrastructure development and dividends of democracy.

“Based on facts in the public domain, the position of both arms of government is wrong-headed and does not warrant holding the nation to ransom.

“We find it rather unwarranted to play politics with such issue and refuse to carry out their statutory functions.

“We call on the Senate and the Federal Government to bury their hatchet to expedite the passage of the budget and the screening of the electoral officers,” he said.

Wabba said for democracy to work, there must be synergy in the work of the three arms of government through meaningful consultations, constant communication and collaboration for the common good of the people.

President, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Kaigama also decried the delay in the implementation of the 2018 National Budget.

“We have observed that politicians have a tradition of taking advantage of our annual fiscal plans to loot the nation’s treasury.

“There is urgent need for serious restructuring and overhauling of the whole system.

“We need policies, designed to permanently put the economy on the path of suitable growth,” he said.

He said that the Federal Government should marshal out strategies on how to diversify the economy and take advantage of the natural resources to boost revenue.

Professor of Economics, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun, Sheriffdeen Tella said that fiscal and monetary policies were important in driving major economic activities.

Tella said the blame game between the executive and the legislature in budget passage and MPC members’ confirmation were not in the nation’s interest.

“The fiscal policy side is held to ransom, the monetary side is also in limbo by not approving members that should consider and approve the CBN monetary policy proposals.

“These are the two major economic policies that drive economic activities,” Tella said.

He observed that further delay in the passage of the 2018 budget, and by implication delay in implementation, would have negative effects on the country’s economic growth.

He said the nation’s interest should be of paramount interest to elected public office holders.

“There is the need for a change of attitude for the economy to move forward, and in the right direction,” he said.

The don lamented that it was disheartening that the budget had not been approved since November 2017, because of budget defence by ministers and directors.

He said that the nation should not be held to ransom because of budget defence, noting that the Minister of Budget and Planning, Udoma Udo-Udoma, and his officials be invited for clarification if the need arises.

Managing Director, APT Securities and Funds Ltd., Mallam Garba Kurfi noted that the nation’s recovery from recession would have been accelerated if the 2018 budget was passed on time.

Kurfi said budget approval and implementation were critical to investment decisions and enhanced economic activities.

He said the second quarter would soon end without budget approval, noting that it was not good for the country’s quest for both local and foreign investors.

Kurfi called for urgent political solution to the looming crisis, saying the economy was suffering with the muscle-flexing between the executive and the legislature.

Recently, the lawmakers accused the Executive of refusing to submit 2018 Finance Bill which it said traditionally accompanies the budget proposal.

The Parliament had requested submission of the finance bill as part of its working tools, saying that it’s necessary as it guards against revenue leakages and inconsistency in government fiscal policy.

The position was aired at the 2nd Joint Public Hearing on the 2018 National Budget by the Joint Committee on Appropriation.

The Chairman of the National Assembly and President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, while declaring the hearing open, said the National Assembly has noticed that non-oil revenue performances have been impacted by policy inconsistencies and leakages.

He said: “In addition to our call for improved systems and processes to plug revenue leakages, we had required that the 2018 Budget proposal be accompanied by a 2018 Finance Bill, which has so far not been received by the National Assembly.

“Let me therefore use this opportunity to, once again, emphasise the need for the Finance Bill. We want government to show clarity and consistency in its policies and to see how these will square up to its financial projections for 2018,” Saraki said.

The NASS President also added that the concern stemmed from the incidence of government-owned Enterprises performing below the revenue projections in terms of IGR.

He said over the years, the performance of independent revenues has fallen short by at least 50 per cent, prompting setting of new agenda.

“While we work towards setting new performance standards for government corporations as well as developing stronger oversight frameworks to improve performance in independent revenues, we do expect more realistic projections of Corporations operating surpluses,” he said.

Saraki disclosed that the Parliament acknowledges Nigeria’s huge infrastructural deficit, as well as the need to expand planned expenditure aimed at reducing existing deficit.

He stressed the need for human capital development, saying that such an endeavour should form part of government’s core priority.

“You will agree with me that, while it is important to achieve equity and balance in the spread of development projects around the country, we must also prioritise human capital development. It is in this vein that the National Assembly will prioritise expenditure on critical health and education facilities as well as soft infrastructure,” he added.

Reiterating the resolve of the legislature to see through its constitutional mandate of making laws for the country, the House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, in his address said the parliamentary approval of the budget is the exclusive right of the legislature hence the choice of making the process participatory through the public hearing.

“No amount of blackmail will force us to abandon our legislative assignment”, Dogara said, adding that there must be strict accountability by all concerned with budget execution.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje told stakeholders that the main objective of the hearing is to ensure an inclusively active stakeholders participation in the processing of the 2018 budget which is a line expression of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) (2017-2020), of the Federal Government.

“The hearing is also an entrenched part of the 8th National Assembly legislative agenda of openness in governance and public sector matters because the people we represent deserve to know and should know how our commonwealth is distributed.”

The 2018 budget which was put at N8.612 trillion and presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Nov. 7, 2017, was tagged “Budget of Consolidation.’’

The Federal Government had in 2017, made a commitment to submit the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly so that it could be passed into law before the end of 2017.

This was in order to return the nation’s budget cycle to the regular January-December.