17 December 2013

Nigeria: Where Is Budget 2014?


Just recently, Kwara State governor, Abdulfattah Ahmed signed the 2013 supplementary appropriation bill. Not many were impressed, because the year is almost ended. The assumption is that he was only legitimising expenditures already incurred. At the centre, the federal government is heading towards a big infraction on account of its not presenting a budget to the National Assembly (NASS). The Parliament has only a couple of days more to wind up for 2013. Twice, the executive had notified the legislature, but stalled the arrangement. The discordant tunes from both chambers over a crude oil benchmark on which to predicate the budget was blamed for this. Both arms of government are clearly progressing in error. By this time last year, the Appropriation Bill had been passed. But today, from President Goodluck Jonathan, the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance, Nigeria may as well experience a shut down as happened in the United States of America, because the 2014 budget was not ready before October 1 as is customary.

That the lawmakers cannot agree on that simple matter is shameful and implies that everything from environmental protection and education to the military, from the start of the next fiscal year 2014, will neither be funded nor empowered to function. The constitution is emphatic in sections 121 (1) and 15(1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act on the sanctity of budget, on the prohibition of payments from the state treasury without an appropriation and makes no exceptions for expenditures for bond payments or "essential services". Indeed it is an impeachable offence to make temporary furloughs for state and political employees without recourse to the National Assembly. It is also inconceivable that a government could treat the budget with so much disdain.

The blame trading is equally annoying. The president had rescheduled indefinitely his presentation of the budget, because of the noticeable difference in the crude oil benchmark passed by the different chambers of NASS. It is equally ridiculous and unthinkable that the government would shun the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (2007) Section 11 (1a, b, c), which stipulates that the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) should be tabled at least six months before the budget is presented, to allow the Parliament ample time for debate.

Notwithstanding this constitutional conundrum, the MTEF has made certain assumptions to aggregate next year's expenditure in the region of N4.77trillion. Capital expenditure is pegged at N1.45trn while "new borrowing of N572billion projected for 2014 would increase the total of local and foreign debt to N8.25trn from N7.11trn in 2013." But in the absence of an official presentation, that remains at the level of conjecture.

Given previous experience of budget processes becoming controversial as a result of the corrupting tendencies of cash-for-budget, horse-trading and ego trips on the part of the executive and legislature, government ought to have approached this assignment with all seriousness.

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