By SUNDAY ODIBASHI
Budget crisis has been a recurring decimal since the commencement of democracy in Nigeria in 1998. Quite often, annual federal budget usually generates disquiets over unilateral jerking up of the total figure as presented by the President.
President Muhammadu Buhari is currently embroiled in another budget crisis with the National Assembly, indicating that the phenomenon has extended from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) government.
The controversies over the 2018 budget revolve around the time of budget passage, powers of budgetary alterations or adjustments, budget tenure and precise budget system.
Generally, Nigeria operates Executive budget where the President or Governor prepares the budget and present to the Legislature for enactment into law. However, there is ambiguity over the budget system which specifies the sphere of powers of the legislature in budget passage.
Suffice it to note that the 2018 Appropriations Bill of N8.6 trillion was presented to the National Assembly on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, by President Buhari. The National Assembly passed the budget on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, while President Buhari signed the budget on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. The Legislature passed N9.12 trillion in the 2018 budget.
President Buhari signing the budget, had protested that he presented the 2018 Budget proposals to the National Assembly on 7th November 2017, anticipating that the usual legislative review process would be quick, so as to move Nigeria towards a predictable January-December financial year.
However, the President observed: “I note, with pleasure, that the National Assembly is working on the enactment of an Organic Budget Law, so as to improve the efficiency of the nation’s budgetary process.
“It is in this regard that I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented.
“The logic behind the Constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that, it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.”
President Buhari protested: “Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me.
“The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.”
The President may have shown profound rationality in his protest in the sense that the budget process commences with demand for funds by the MDAs for performance of government functions put together in a planned fiscal document by the executive.
However, the National Assembly defended the delay in the passage of 2018 budget to seeming indiscipline among ministers and heads of federal agencies who stayed back from appearing before the legislature to defend the budgetary allocations to their respective MDAs.
The National Assembly had in its explanations indicated that “as at March 15th 2018 (five months and eight days after the budget submission), Mr. President was still directing the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to compel the Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government to appear before the committees of the National Assembly to defend their respective budget.
“In addition, up till April (six months after the budget submission), the Executive was still bringing new additions to the 2018 budget which the National Assembly, in good faith and in the spirit of collaboration and harmonious working relationship, accepted.”
The lawmakers further noted that the 2017 budget was signed into law on June 5th, 2017, arguing that the tenure of the 2017 budget ended on the June 5, 2018. In other words, the lawmakers maintained the existing financial year in passage of the budget.
The National Assembly acquiesced with the President on the issue of an Organic Budget Law to improve the budgetary process, acknowledging that the proposed law is pending in the National Assembly but cannot be considered without the amendment of Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which gives the President the power to propose “estimates” at any time in the financial year.
The lawmakers disclosed that during the last Constitutional Review exercise, the National Assembly amended this provision which was approved by over two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly; adding that the new Constitution Amendment requires the President to submit the budget not later than 90 days to the end of the financial year.
The lawmakers protested: “as of today, the President has not yet signed this Constitutional Amendment Bill which would have helped us to have a proper budget calendar, which shall eventually lead to the realization of the proposed January to December budget cycle.”
The federal lawmakers further explained that the adjustment of projects in the budget was made to reflect Federal Character in the national interest. Such action, as laudable or commendable as it could be, however, may not require unilateral decision; either consultation or referring the imbalance back to the executive could have eased out crisis. In any case, the promotion of Federal Character in the budget is a clear oversight function of the legislature.