Late submission of budgets by the executive arm of government and delay in their passage by the National Assembly have become worrisome phenomena because of their tendency to stall governance. Time was when Nigerians looked forward to the announcement of the budget as it was believed to hold the key that is capable of unlocking the socio-economic systems. Since the return of democracy in 1999, issues of budget presentations, approvals and passage have disturbingly been turned into an act of warfare by the executive and the legislature in a needless fight for supremacy. This unhealthy practice has led to slow and sometimes flawed budgetary formulation and implementation with its repercussion on the wellbeing of the citizens.
It is not uncommon for budgets to still lie fallow, six months into the New Year, while politicians and technocrats continue to heckle themselves in a bid to ensure that their interest prevail. Arising from a perceived ignorance as to the actual role of the legislature, members of the National Assembly see themselves as sharing in the roles of the executive in terms of project execution. They adopt all means, subtle and devious, to influence projects to their various constituencies not because they intend to actualise the budgetary provisions but because of their pecuniary interest.
Without exonerating the executive arm in the unfortunate development, the late presentation of the 2019 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2018 did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians. Contrary to promises made by the executive on its readiness to submit budget figures on time to the lawmakers for careful scrutiny and approval, the annual ritual has been more an exercise that tests the patience of Nigerians and foist on them lingering economic crisis. Considering the period at which budgets get presented and passed, no less than four months is required to ensure an ideal budget process.
Unlike in the past under the military administration where budgets were announced and confirmed to cover the months of January to December of every year, the emergence of civil democracy in 1999 proved that appropriate budgeting is a herculean task that is yet to be perfected due to bickering between the executive and legislative arms of government. It is a thing of regret, in our opinion, that no year passes without controversies and squabbling over budget. Hardly had the President Buhari submitted the 2019 budget than many Nigerians declared that, considering the general polls slated to hold in February and March, it is almost impossible for lawmakers to complete the processes of verifying the figures and returning same to the executive arm for effective implementation.
Besides the hurried nature of gathering relevant statistics on the budget, the culminating scenarios of scandals and alleged under-the-table dealings have drawn critical comments from stakeholders while at the same time attenuating the basis of the budget as a firm roadmap to ensuring development and transparent management of public funds.
Before now, not a few Nigerians have cried out over the late and sometimes delayed submission of budgets to the National Assembly. The nation’s technocrats are often alleged to be engaged in either padding the figures or repeating figures used in previous years to cover up tracks of incompetence and corruption.
Against the background of an urgent need to provide ample time for an ideal budget formulation, it is needful, in our considered opinion, that the nation’s appropriation systems be made to cover from January to December of every year, with strict adherence by collaborate with all critical stakeholders. To ensure that all actors in the making of appropriation bills are given opportunity to contribute effectively, this newspaper urges the president to insist on presenting budget figures to the National Assembly in the September of every year in order to allow for an idyllic budgetary process.
Similarly, to ensure that the dream of completing debates on the budget and producing a clean copy are attained without hitches, we call for a law that criminalises any attempt at frustrating the completion of the appropriation. Relevant laws should be enacted to criminalise budget padding also, just as the Appropriation Committees in both houses should be strengthened for effective oversight functions. We make this last call in the hope that oversight functions do not become opportunities for blackmail officials of government with the ultimate intention to actualise their motives often related to self-aggrandisement. Getting the appropriation formalities right is a national challenge that requires effort from all, not just the public office holders.
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