17 January 2013

Nigeria: Sign Budget 2013 and Implement It


The presidency this week admitted it has received the 2013 Appropriation Bill as passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly. During the preceding week, it was a jig-saw puzzle over who was playing tricks between the two arms of government.

Although the budget's early passage was lauded as an unprecedented feat, doubts about the tardiness in governance persist. Budget delay has not died with year 2012 as promised by President Goodluck Jonathan.

It is not known whether President Jonathan is exercising his veto on the bill as passed or he has no idea about the grey areas in the bill. Before any bill could become law, it must be agreed to by both the House and the Senate, and receive the president's assent. Should the president delay or refuse assent, the Assembly may pass the law by a two-thirds majority of both chambers and overrule the veto; the president's consent would not be required. The present Assembly has not hidden its preparedness to overrule the executive where they disagree.

In the past, the complaint from the executive had always been about the lawmakers delaying the passage of the budget. This time, the table seems to have turned. Both the presidency and the National Assembly have, for a long time, played hanky-panky on the whereabouts of the passed bill. The special adviser to the president on National Assembly matters, Senator Joy Emordi, said the delay in transmitting the document was stalling its signing into law.

But leader of the Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, and the House deputy spokesperson, Victor Ogene, confirmed that the presidency confirmed receipt of the N4.924 trillion budget on December 21, a day after both chambers of the National Assembly passed it. It was the first time since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999 that a budget would be passed before the end of a fiscal year.

We thought that a presidency that has admitted to being tardy and sluggish would seize the hour as adrenalin to cast off its lassitude. We only wonder what informed this hide and seek by the two arms over a bill as important as the budget. It is on record that there are as many as 14 bills duly passed that the presidency is sitting on.

Is the presidency not comfortable with the hiking of its proposal by about N63 billion? Or does it have to do with the controversial benchmark for oil put at $79 instead of $75 in the initial proposal in the "Budget of Consolidation and Inclusive Growth" submitted on October 10, 2012?

Speaker of the House of Representatives AminuTambuwal had, after examining the 2013-2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, said oil benchmark above $75 per barrel would reduce the budget deficit by about 66 per cent, but finance minister Dr.NgoziOkonjo-Iweala and her economic management team countered that it would affect the macro-economic components of the budget, as the country's credit ratings would go the wrong way.

Whatever misgivings the executive may have about the budget, there are institutional frameworks to resolve the impasse. It is wrong for a responsible government to keep the public in the dark and stall investment, trade and governance by arrogantly holding onto a passed appropriation bill that would inform the policy thrust in 2013.

Rather than usher in hope with this all-important Act, the nation was treated to a sordid drama of diversionary re-election poster politics in the New Year. We need the 2013 Appropriation Act now to fast-track development, otherwise all the president's talk about "moving faster" to deliver on the dividends of democracy will be treated as idle, flippant and misguided gibberish.

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