‘Why 2018 budget may not be ready in first quarter’

• Plans To Reset Budget Life Cycle Dropped
Hopes of reversing some of the negative trends in the nation’s economy may be dimmed by the Federal Government’s inability to fix the problems that have bedevilled budget preparations.

In fact, some lawmakers have confirmed that not only has the much-anticipated resetting of the budget’s life cycle from January to December failed, the 2018 budget may not be passed in the first quarter of the new year.

Citing serious cases of lack of co-ordination and incompetence in the executive, the senators were frank about the fact that until a more pro-active approach was applied to budget planning, the nation’s budget woes would continue.

Already, the Senate has mooted the idea of extending the life cycle of the 2017 budget to March 2018, to allow the executive cover enough grounds in its implementation particularly in terms of capital projects.

The plan would also afford the National Assembly enough time to do a sector-by-sector consideration of the 2018 budget proposal. The Upper Legislative Chamber is still observing its End of Year and Christmas recess, and would resume plenary on January 16.

A member of the Senate Appropriation Committee, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, disclosed in a brief interview that so far, not much work has been done on the budget proposal because what the Presidency submitted last October as 2018 budget estimates grossly fell short of every standard expected of such a document across the world.

He lamented that the two-week plenary-free budget consideration period that the Senate gave all lawmakers and committees, between December 5 and 19, only served the purpose of exposing the weaknesses and failures of government in implementing the 2017 budget.

According to Ibrahim, “The basic principles of budgeting were discarded by the executive as far as the 2018 budget processing is concerned. It means the National Assembly would have to prepare for more budget work than it expected when we return in January since the executive has failed in doing its responsibility. It also means that the budget document cannot be expected to be passed as earlier scheduled. That is, in January.

“We are working towards getting it passed within the first quarter of 2018, and push it to the Presidency. And you know that it will take the Presidency some time to study and sign the document too,” the lawmaker added.

When reached for comments on the fate of the 2018 budget, Senator Solomon Adeola blamed the problems on the failure of the executive to do a good job in budget preparations and implementation.

He wondered why the Senate should consider and approve the 2018 budget, when the performance of the 2017 budget is unknown.

He stated: “How can we approve the 2018 budget without knowing the performance of the 2017 budget? This is abnormal. From the recent budget defences, it is obvious that MDAs are not ready. Year in, year out, the budget performance is low. We have had an occasion where a minister was asked to excuse lawmakers because he did not come prepared. He did not come with the necessary documents to defend the budget of his ministry.”

He disclosed that despite the fact that the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) was submitted three months later than what the Fiscal Responsibility Act stipulates, the executive even had to withdraw and later resubmitted it because of some fundamental inadequacies.

“Remember that the executive not only submitted the MTEF late, it withdrew it again. This shows lack of seriousness on the part of economic managers of the country.”

Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, had captured the frustration faced by the National Assembly in these words: “When we suspended plenary for two weeks, the intention was to enable the committees to work. They are supposed to report progress in order to enable the Senate to pass the budget before the end of the year or early next year.

“When we suspended plenary, it was with the idea that the committees will swing into action so we can have a tentative date to pass the budget. From what I have seen, we might run into troubled waters. If we have not appreciated what the problems are, it is important for Nigerians to be made to understand what the problem is.”

Lawal continued: “The template we are using will continue to create problems for us. The template cannot work in our country today. From reports we have had, it is obvious that we have problems. We need to know what the problems are. If we have a 2017 budget that has not been executed today and we are considering the 2018 budget, it means there is a problem.”

Lamenting the Presidency’s failure to keep to its words in the implementation of the 2017 budget, Lawal said: “The President told us that the 2017 budget was going to achieve at least 40 per cent performance. Today, that has not happened. We need to lay this issue and discuss it. Let us put the facts before the executive and show Nigerians the difficulties we are facing.”

And as the Upper Chamber was formally closing legislative activities for the year, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki, voiced out how hopeless getting the country out of the perennial budget tragedy has become.

“Truly, it is very disheartening and disappointing because we know how much we have put into the budget process. How can anybody who is responsible travel at this period when the budget defence is ongoing?

“The budget has not been implemented. We cannot be magicians. We just have to work and give a good budget to Nigerians. The executive really needs to sit up. If they refuse to roll over the 2017 projects into 2018, it is a disaster,” he concluded.