Nige­ria and the de­ba­cle of bud­get­ing

Business Day (Nigeria) - - COMMENT - OKEY NWACHUKWU Nwachukwu is a La­gos-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant

An­other na­tional bud­get­ing sea­son is in play. Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, on Wednesday, De­cem­ber 19, 2018, pre­sented to the par­lia­ment a bud­get of N8.83 tril­lion for the 2019 fis­cal year. The ses­sion was char­ac­ter­ized by such row­di­ness that so rat­tled even the ret­i­cent Pres­i­dent that he re­minded ev­ery­one that the world was watch­ing. The day af­ter, the Na­tional As­sem­bly ad­journed ple­nary to Jan­uary 16, 2019.

Ex­pect­edly, the skep­tics are hav­ing a good laugh. It seems like an­other trip through a fa­mil­iar ter­rain. When a hint of an early pas­sage of the 2018 bud­get be­came pub­lic, skep­tics, that is those who chose not to be in­dif­fer­ent, dis­missed it as an­other pos­tur­ing by the govern­ment to project an im­age of dis­ci­pline. Ita Enang, Spe­cial Ad­viser to the Pres­i­dent on Na­tional As­sem­bly Mat­ters had proudly an­nounced in Septem­ber 2016 that the 2018 bud­get will be sub­mit­ted to the Na­tional As­sem­bly in Oc­to­ber 2017. The Oc­to­ber dead­line, which Enang de­clared sacro­sanct, was set by the Par­lia­ment, he said.

“The Na­tional As­sem­bly will con­sider it be­tween Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber (2017) and by De­cem­ber it would have been passed. The cur­rent bud­get will end in 12 months and hav­ing been signed on June 12, 2016, the bud­get is legally to run be­tween June 12, 2017 and June 12, 2018. But the in­ten­tion of the govern­ment is to make sure that the im­ple­men­ta­tion date and as­sent will be for Jan­uary 1, 2018 so that we will re­turn the bud­get to the con­ven­tional Jan­uary. This was a ne­go­ti­ated po­si­tion be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and the leg­is­la­ture and in fact, the leg­is­la­ture is more anx­ious to get the bud­get passed by De­cem­ber and as­sented to in Jan­uary,” Enang had de­clared then.

Well, Pres­i­dent Buhari pre­sented the 2018 bud­get to the Par­lia­ment on Tuesday, Novem­ber 7, 2017. It was signed into law on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, six months be­yond Enang’s pro­jec­tion. This was af­ter so much squab­bling be­tween both arms of govern­ment. Both­er­ing to as­sess whether the 2018 bud­get at­tained its goals, if any, would be an exercise in fu­til­ity.

Proshare, a fore­most online me­dia, cap­tured the Nige­rian bud­get de­ba­cle thus: “As a mat­ter of fact, Nige­ria op­er­ates a com­plex bud­getary sys­tem, char­ac­ter­ized by de­lays and in­ef­fi­cien­cies, which of­ten lim­its bud­get per­for­mance. For in­stance, since the year 2000, it takes an av­er­age of 130 days to pass the ap­pro­pri­a­tion bill into law, from when it was pre­sented to the Na­tional As­sem­bly (NASS) by the Pres­i­dent.” Would the 2019 bud­get take a dif­fer­ent course? Time will tell.

If the un­ruli­ness that char­ac­ter­ized pre­sen­ta­tion of the 2019 bud­get is any in­di­ca­tor, then an­other ran­corous fis­cal year beckons. Al­ready, Pres­i­dent of the Se­nate, Bukola Saraki, has dis­missed the bud­get as hope­less and/or de­cep­tive.

Other fac­tors are also in play. Cam­paign­ing for the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, billed to hold on Fe­bru­ary 16 and March 2, 2019, is in full swing. Noth­ing would be more im­por­tant to a typ­i­cal politi­cian at this point than re-elec­tion. So, an early pas­sage of the bud­get, based on prece­dents, is al­most im­pos­si­ble, un­less there is ex­cep­tional horse-trad­ing across the aisle. Again, a sub­stan­tial num­ber of the leg­is­la­tors in the 8th as­sem­bly are not re­turn­ing. So, they have no in­cen­tive to pass the bud­get, un­less, again, there is very tempt­ing stim­u­lus, prefer­ably in cash.

Es­sen­tially, there are a num­ber of in­ter­est groups in­volved in the Nige­rian bud­getary process, all pulling from dif­fer­ent ends for di­verse rea­sons.

To the Na­tional As­sem­bly, it is a con­sti­tu­tional right and be­stows a mea­sure of sub­stance in the gov­er­nance equa­tion. To have the Pres­i­dent stoop be­fore it elic­its tri­umphal­ism, es­pe­cially if you are the Buhari model. The cur­rent Na­tional As­sem­bly is not con­trolled by the ruling party, which makes it dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to en­force party dis­ci­pline. The par­lia­ment is also handed an op­por­tu­nity to flaunt a sub­tle con­trol of the ex­ec­u­tive while trum­pet­ing the prin­ci­ple of sep­a­ra­tion of powers. They will move at their cho­sen speed.

The ex­ec­u­tive arm naturally en­joys the pre­rog­a­tive of im­ple­ment­ing the bud­get, not­with­stand­ing the over­sight func­tion of the par­lia­ment. Con­trol­ling the crit­i­cal levers of power and au­thor­ity, par­tic­u­larly the se­cu­rity ser­vices, rev­enue gen­er­at­ing agen­cies and po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age, con­fers fur­ther an edge on the ex­ec­u­tive as the most pow­er­ful arm of govern­ment. In an en­vi­ron­ment where ab­so­lute power res­onates, such au­thor­ity is of­ten mis­ap­plied or abused.

Pres­i­dent Buhari, from an­tecedents, would cer­tainly not be en­thu­si­as­tic about pre­sent­ing a bud­get be­fore a body of ‘cor­rup­ti­cians’ or peo­ple he con­sid­ers de­fi­cient in pa­tri­o­tism and in­tegrity. With or with­out bud­get, he will gov­ern Nige­ria. He merely un­der­takes the exercise just to ful­fill demo­cratic tenets and to present an ap­pear­ance of ad­her­ence to eco­nomic man­age­ment prin­ci­ples.

The cor­po­rate world and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity rep­re­sent an­other in­ter­est group. Believ­ing that the doc­u­ment would pro­vide a guide on eco­nomic pol­icy and di­rec­tion, they take a cue from it to make de­ci­sions. But be­cause the Nige­rian bud­get mostly op­er­ates in de­fault, its only value lies in know­ing that the ex­pected has been done.

Con­trac­tors are an­other ma­jor in­ter­est group. To them, the bud­get is just a con­tract or cash dis­pens­ing ma­chine. Most pub­lic of­fi­cials have sim­i­lar mind­set. The con­trac­tors there­fore study ev­ery line item with con­sid­er­able dili­gence. As they have col­lab­o­ra­tors in the sys­tem, all they do is lobby for in­clu­sion of pre­ferred con­tracts or projects and sub­se­quently trig­ger their ex­e­cu­tion. Once money is re­leased, the job is done, ex­e­cuted or not. The col­lab­o­ra­tors will just get their cut. Con­se­quently, the same line items are re­cy­cled ev­ery year.

Note: The rest of this ar­ti­cle con­tin­ues in the online edi­tion of Busi­ness Day @ https://busi­ness­day­on­line.com/

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