Budget 2016 Impasse | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Budget 2016 Impasse

Posted: Apr 18, 2016 at 5:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


Boniface Chizea

The major issue for discussion today is the impasse or if you like the gridlock that has stalled the approval of Budget 2016 which was sent to the President for his signature after both chambers of the National Assembly had harmonized their views on the Budget on April 7, 2016. It is on record that the President sensibly refused to append his signature on such a matter which had proven so contentious without the details of the Budget.

In your quiet moments you cannot but wonder why the Budget should be sent without the details and some people entertain the expectations that it would be signed, as it is claimed that it is the procedure and that any matters arising would be taken up thereafter may be via the instrumentality of a supplementary Budget!

In the light of what is now currently being revealed with regard to what extent the Budget had been doctored, some people have gone to town with the claim of conspiracy theory that the Budget was sent in the first place to deliberately hoodwink and stampede the Executive into signing the document to achieve obvious goals. Could you imagine that the Executive has been accused for being largely uninformed of the budget processes and procedures and uncoordinated to a large extent, while the National Assembly had been accused of Budget padding to achieve ulterior goals and objectives.

The Executive suspicion and not trusting the National Assembly as a result of the prevailing sore relationship arising from the trail of the President of the Senate by the Code of Conduct Tribunal(CCT) which is largely considered by informed compatriots as aimed to achieve the singular purpose of embarrassing the Senate President and, may be subsequently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives to vacate their exalted positions for the preferred candidates of the Party went in with a fine tooth comb to look at the Budget details and the allegations of budget padding arising are mind boggling.

The project that caused the loudest controversy was the issue of the coastal Calabar to Lagos rail line which the Ministry of Transport claims it included in the Budget. What is alarming is that the counterpart funding for the Kano-Lagos rail line was not only retained but surreptitiously augmented. It is getting testier as we learn that the Ministry of Transport has a video recording of the proceedings, and the Executive had since weighed in through the Ministry of Budget and planning to explain that as the budget preparations went through various stages the Calabar-Lagos rail line was included in the budget! There were many other alleged alterations to the budget estimates proposed by the Executive, but we would not allow that to delay us here any longer.

This scenario has perennially raised the question of who has responsibility for the preparation of the National Budget.  Hear Abdulmumuni Jubril the Chairman of House Committee on Appropriation as he claims through his tweeter handle; ‘The National Assembly has the power to allocate, re-allocate, remove, add, increase, reduce or retain revenue and expenditure heads. After all, what is submitted by the Executive is only an estimate.’  You will, therefore, be inclined to ask why then should the NASS not simply prepare the Budget for the country for the Executive to implement and save the country all the hassle?

My understanding of Appropriation is to give authority to proceed with the Budget and not to misconstrue giving authority as a license to produce an entirely new budget. I conducted a search and this was what I found: ‘In government, Appropriation is authorization by an Act of Parliament to permit government agencies to incur obligations and pay for them from the Treasury. It does not mean actual setting aside of cash, but represents prescribed limits of spending within a specified period.’ There is no doubt that*** the Executive has the mandate of the electorate to cause an improvement in the quality of their lives through the implementation of its policies and programs. It is not advisable to contest this prerogative with the Executive as it would appear to be the case in the current situation.***

I have been on record to have severally recommended, as this problem continued to rear its ugly head, that there might be the need to seek judicial interpretations on this matter to commence a process of drawing boundaries with regard to who should do what with Budget preparation. And such a review should interrogate the procedure whereby Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government troupe to the National Assembly to defend their respective budget submissions, which must have been previously harmonized by the Executive to achieve its intended goals and objectives. This is the window that tempts the government organs to lobby the National Assembly for an increase to the allocation already made by the Executive.  Eminent legal scholars have expressed the opinion that the Legislature in performing its Appropriation function could be allowed to reduce but not increase the total Budget figure; which resonates with common sense as such approach would result in surplus which is eminently easier to manage.

The Legislature on the other hand, as it is now patently obvious, had tended to play politics with the Appropriation process. As the saying goes, when elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. The agony in the land with the current situation of lack of reliable electricity supply to which has been added difficulties with buying petrol and increase in the level price level across board had worsened the misery index in the land. And this administration must appreciate the fact that it is time to buckle up as it has effectively two more years before it faces the electorate to account for the mandate it received; and therefore, it in its interest that the lingering crisis regarding this Appropriation is resolved amicably and with dispatch.