Six months after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the proposed 2018 budget estimates to the National Assembly, the two legislative chambers concurrently passed the budget last Wednesday, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO, who monitored the budgeting process reports.
The two chambers of the National Assembly last Tuesday received the report of the joint committee on Appropriation, and adopted same the following day.
The process of adopting the report was expedited to ensure that the parliament did not forestall further delay as the lawmakers adjourn plenary in preparation for yesterday's state congresses of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
President Muhammadu Buhari on issue of the budget November 7 last year, saw it lingering for over six months before it was eventually passed by the National Assembly.
While the budget lingered, the executive and legislative arms of government passed bucks over what was responsible for the delay. The National Assembly accused the MDAs of frustrating efforts to pass the budget, as it alleged that Ministers and chief executives of agencies refused to attend budget defense session before the parliament.
Vice-chairman of senate committee on appropriation, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji, had said the committee was having difficulty harmonising reports on the budget because most of the sub-committees (on the 2018 budget) have huge challenges with the MDAs.
But the Ministry of Budget and National Planning faulted the claims. Director-general of budget office, Mr. Ben Akabueze said; "to the best of our knowledge MDAs have been forthcoming with the budget defence sessions."
Akabueze in a statement issued in March, also denied reports that the budget was submitted to the lawmakers without details for some MDAs.
The ministry said while President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the budget with all the usual details required by the national assembly to process it, "ministers and heads of agencies have made themselves available to explain and defend the budget".
The statement read: "In the course of its review of the budget proposals, the NASS normally invites the MDAs to appear before them to defend the president's budget submissions.
"Given the seriousness the presidency attaches to getting the 2018 budget passed so it could earnestly focus on achieving the goals set out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-20 (ERGP), which formed the basis of the budget, it had directed heads of ministries and extra-ministerial agencies to attend to any requests for meetings/information by the national assembly (NASS) with dispatch.
"To the best of our knowledge, this directive has been complied with."
The ministry added that should any committee of the national assembly still experience issues with attendance of any MDA, Udoma Udoma, minister of budget and national planning "has indicated that he is available to liaise with the particular MDA.
However, irrespective of the bickering, indication emerged that the two arms of government were in consultation on the budget, before it was passed by the National Assembly.
This is evident in the confession of the appropriation committees, that the decision to raise the entire budget profile by N508 billion and the oil price bench mark by $6 were taken in collaboration with the executive arm.
The appropriation bill, was increased from the N8.612 proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari, to N9.12 trillion. The crude oil benchmark price of the budget was also increased from $45 to $50.5.
Also, the 2018 Appropriation is premised on production of 2.3 million barrels of oil per day and exchange rate of N305/$1.
Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on March and Public Affairs, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas said the new crude oil benchmark price was approved in order to reduce the overall deficit by N50.88bn and to make additional allocation of N106.5bn to the power, works and housing ministry.
This has however raised hopes of increased government spending and its concomitant effect on the economy.
Highlights of the increased aggregate expenditure of N9.120 trillion reflects N530, 421, 368,624 billion for statutory transfers as against the N456, 458, 654 , 074 earlier proposed, and N2,203, 835, 365, 699 trillion for debt service as against the N2,233, 835, 365, 699 earlier proposed. Others are N3, 512, 677, 902, 077 trillion for recurrent expenditure as against N3,494,277, 820, 219 trillion earlier proposed; N2,873, 400, 351, 825 trillion for capital expenditure as against N2, 427, 665, 113, 222 trillion earlier proposed, and N1, 954, 464, 993, 775 trillion for fiscal deficit.
Specifically, the appropriation committees of both chambers, in their separate reports that were adopted and passed, explained that the N508billion added to the N8.612 trillion presented to them in November last year arose from the addition of N46.72 billion to the security votes, N57.15 billion to health projection and N106.50 billion to power, works and housing estimates.
Others are N15.70 billion added to budgetary votes for the education sector out of which N1 billion each was earmarked for the 12 federal universities established by the Jonathan administration for the provision of critical infrastructure and the rest for meal subsidy for Unity Schools.
Also listed in the report were the N10 billion added to the judiciary votes and N44.20 billion added to the budgetary provisions of the NDDC.
Under statutory transfers, the National Assembly has the highest vote of N139.5 billion, which is N14 billion higher than the N125 billion allocated to it in the 2017 budget.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was allocated N45.5 billion; Universal Basic Education (UBE) got N109.063billion while Public Complaints Commission got N7.480 billion, etc.
The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has the highest vote of N682.309 billion, followed by the Ministry of Transportation with N251.420 billion.
Others are N157.715billion for Ministry of Defence; N149, 198 billion for Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and N147.200 billion for Ministry of Water Resources, etc.
Payment for oil subsidy was not included in the budget; both chambers called on the executive to forward a supplementary budget for that purpose.
In his remarks at the Senate session, Senate President Bukola Saraki said: "We must appreciate now that the crude oil price is close to $80 (per barrel); a lot of Nigerians are expecting to see our Excess Crude Account to be on the rise, but if money is being used for subsidy at the end of the day, we will have it difficult to explain. That is why it is important that we capture this subsidy into the budget".
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives warned the executive arm of government to ensure that only funds appropriated in the 2018 budget are disbursed to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), and other organs of government.
The House further stipulated that the 2018 budget will run from the date it is assented till June 30, 2019.
The House had held a 90-minute closed-door session to consider the report of the joint committee of the National Assembly on Appropriation before passing the budget of N9,120,334, 988,225 billion for the 2018 fiscal year.
The House however warned the executive arm of government to ensure that only funds appropriated under the 2018 appropriation are disbursed to Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA), and other organs of government.
The House further instructed that the 2018 budget is to run from the date it is assent till June 30, 2019.
Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Hon Mustapha Dawaki, while making some clarifications on the committee's report, noted that after consultations with the executive arm of government, the increase in the oil revenue was applied to critical sectors of the economy.
Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, prior to the consideration of the budget had noted that the House raised a Conference Committee to interface with the Senate on the areas of differences on the budget.
Notable members of the Conference Committee are the chairmen of the standing committees of the House on Appropriation, Finance and Aids, Debts and Loan Management, Hon Yinka Ajayi.
Also, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Abdulrasak Namdas, told journalists after the plenary that the budget would be forwarded to the president next week for assent
Namdas added that both chambers of the National Assembly would harmonise some areas of difference before it is transmitted to the president.
He, however, stressed that the House would not tolerate any form of extra-budgetary expenditure, as he said such expenditure must be presented to the National Assembly through a supplementary budget by the Presidency.
Consequently, some financial experts have expressed optimism about the successful implementation of the budget.
Acting Chairman, Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC), Mr. Victor Muruako during an interaction with journalists in Abuja, noted that the passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly is a relief to the nation.
He said it would also bring hope to the populace and boost the economy.
According to Muruako, the crude oil benchmark which was increased from 45 dollars per barrel to 51 dollars per barrel was the right thing to do, considering the current price of crude oil globally.
"The crude oil price benchmark is very realistic because if you look at the current crude oil price you will see that 51 dollars is fair enough, because the essence of these things is not to have an unrealistic estimate.
"Presently, crude is going for 78 to 80 dollars per barrel and I think 51 dollars is even conservative but it is better to be on the safe side, so for me it is a commendable effort," Muruako said.
He also said the increase in the budget estimate by the National Assembly by N508 billion was in the interest of the country.
Muruako added that the legislative arm had been working very closely with the executive to ensure that things are done properly.
Contrary to some financial experts has faulted the increase in the oil benchmark of the 2018 appropriation bill from $45 dollars to $51.
Former president, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Okechukwu Unegbu, while reacting to the development, said increasing the benchmark because of the rally in the global oil market was not needful.
Unegbu said the surplus could be saved for the rainy day or used for infrastructure development to achieve the desired growth.
"Why can't we save the surplus and prepare for the rainy day? We can't just be consuming and consuming," he said.
Unegbu said the surplus should be used to finance critical infrastructure since the country was faced with acute infrastructure deficit.
He also kicked against the small allocation to the health and education sectors, which were critical to economic development.
He said the allocation of N57.15 billion and N15.7 billion to health and education respectively was disheartening.
He further explained that more funds were allocated to non-priority sectors that would not aid development in the proposed budget.
"If you give more money to education, a very educated person can take care of him and can provide for him good house," Unegbu said.
Unegbu, who said health and education were critical for economic development, called on the executive to address the problem before signing the bill into law.
Also, a Professor of Economics at Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye, Ogun, Sheriffdeen Tella, said the passage of the budget was very late and had created problems in the economy.
Tella said the budget, though late, was expected to wake up the economy from slumber, as the private and public sectors, including the external sector would become more active.
According to him, the capital market reacted positively to the announcement of the passage of the budget, noting that the market activities would be further boosted when the budget was assented to by the president.
"Although it will take some time for the implication to be fully felt in both the money and capital markets, the very short term reactions starts now and the capital market normally reacts very fast if it is an active one," he said.