Business & Finance

NASS Begins Debate On 2018 Budget

The National Assembly comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives have separately begun debates over the N8.612 trillion 2018 Budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7, 2017 to the joint sessions of the lawmakers in Abuja. Both chambers were united that the recurrent expenditure as contained in the 2018 budget, like the previous budgets of 2016 and 2017, would take a huge toll on the nation’s revenue, while also caling for a reversal of the trend. Buhari has christened the Appropriation Bill as “Budget of Consolidation.” while also urging for its speedy passage.

But Senator Enyinanya Abaribe ( PDP, Abia South), was the first to fire the first salvo against the 2018 Budget, stating that it was full of assumptions and fictitious, just as he described it as dead on arrival. However, the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC Borno) in an attempt to halt further condemnation of the budget, raised a point of order, urging Abaribe to withdraw the word “fictitious” and instead, use another word, which he said, is “parliamentary and acceptable.” Although Abaribe withdrew the word, he still maintained his stand that the budget presented no hope for Nigeria, stressing that, “I was just quoting the Senate Leader from his speech that the 2018 budget was designed to consolidate on the achievements of the 2016 and 2017 budgets. What was done in 2017 when less than 15 per cent of that budget was released?.Nothing was done; and that was why I called the 2018 budget proposal fictitious.”

The debate on the budget kicked off notwithstanding the inability of both the Senate and the House to pass the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) for 2018 to 2020 as expected. The passage of the MTEF usually preceded budget debates to pave the way for the full consideration of the bill. Earlier, the Senate Leader had led the debate on the 2018 budget, which, according to him, was designed to consolidate on the success and achievements of the 2017 budget. The Senate Leader urged the lawmakers to support the consideration of the budget. Senator Joshua Lidani (Plateau North), in his contribution, described the budget as wishful thinking. He said that the fundamentals of the budgets were wrong and built on a very weak foundation. Also,Senator Gbenga Ashafa (APC, Lagos East),lamented the poor performances of the 2016 and 2017 budgets, which he said, where below expectations. He, however, lauded the government for giving a lot of priority to Capital Expenditure. Senator Ben MurrayBruce (PDP, Bayelsa), spoke in the same vein as he described the recurrent expenditure of the 2018 budget as over-bloated and hence, should be trimmed.

He said the Federal Government should avoid over bloated budget in the future by reducing the cost of governance, saying, it has always accounted for high recurrent expenditures. He said, “We have downgraded our economy; and the reason we are downgraded is, we cannot meet our revenue projection. It is understood that this is a budget of consolidation; I would rather describe it as a budget of active imagination.” He said, “If you look at the budget from 1960 till date, you have agencies that were designed for 1960, agencies that were designed for the Nigerian Civil War, agencies that were designed to suit some certain conditions in life. 60 years later, those agencies still exist in the budget. “If you look at the budget, you will see some agencies, they get recurrent expenditure, they pay salaries, they get houses, computers, cars, but they have no money to do any work; yet we pay salaries.” According to him,“Some agencies are so bloated; it defies logic; but these agencies exist. So, we have 2.4 million people consuming 60 per cent of the recurrent expenditure of Nigeria. It doesn’t make any sense.” He alluded to agencies like NTA, FRCN, Voice of Nigeria and others, saying that they have been gulping huge revenue with over bloated workforce. He said, “Let us look at agencies that make no sense. FRCN, sell it to the staff. FRCN has 8, 000 workers, sell it to them.

Sell NTA to the staff. Sell the Voice of Nigeria. Who listens to Voice of Nigeria? Sell it. If the workers want to buy, let them buy it. Set up cooperatives like the late Obafemi Awolowo did; sell it to them. If we spend 71 per cent on recurrent expenditure, we will never get out of this predicament we find ourselves.” Senator Francis Alimekhena, (APC, Edo North ), condemned what he described as over bloated budget. He also said the budget’s projections were not realistic. Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu, who presided over the session, thanked lawmakers for contributing to the debate with civility. He expressed hopes that government would listen to the positions canvassed in the debate and take appropriate action. Debate on the 2018 Budget continues today. Also, the House of Representatives commenced debate on the general principles of the 2018 appropriation bill with the lawmakers putting aside party loyalty by carpeting the nation’s budgeting system; and lamenting what it described as the poor implementation of the 2017 budget by the Buhari administration. The Reps members voiced their frustrations at the commencement of the debate on the general principles of the 2018 Appropriation Bill. Individually, the lawmakers were unanimous in accusing the executive of violating the

Appropriation Act, and for selectively implementing the budget as passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President. One of our correspondents reports that the lawmakers enumerated several infractions committed by the executive arm of government and its inaction not to implement the budget, particularly in view of the then prevailing harsh economic indications that the country was in recession; and thereafter, faulted the skewed method of budgeting in the country where recurrent expenditure continues to increase against a dismal proportion allocated to capital expenditure. In their view, capital expenditure is the only source through which Nigerians can benefit from the country’s budgeting system. Hon Abubakar Ahmed from Borno State, while commended the paradigm shift that led to an increase in capital votes, however frowned at the astronomical increase in the recurrent expenditure. He warned that the only way to develop the country is to increase capital expenditure and reduce recurrent expenditure, adding that besides the paying of salaries and allowances, other items contained in the recurrent list like purchase of office equipments and oversea trips were unnecessary and a huge waste of scarce resources. In his contribution, Hon Abubakar Chika Adamu, aligned with his colleagues and condemned the increase in recurrent expenditure, as well as the huge debt servicing ratio of the budget; and the high deficit financing of the 2018 budget. According to him, it was high time both the legislature and executive sit down to do a proper budget that will benefit every Nigerian, instead of the present scenario where the national budget dishes out palliatives to the people rather than building super structures that will last the test of time for the people. Similarly, Hon Mohammed Monguno from Bornu State, lamented the nonimplementation of the 2017 budget, despite indicators from the NNPC and the FIRS, showing that there have been increased revenue to finance the budget at least up to 60 per cent.

“No matter how beautiful the budget is, it remains in the realm of estimates,” he said, adding that the 2017 budget implementation is a failure. He said that parliament can only be responsive and responsible if it discharges its responsibility of effective oversight; and called on his colleagues to redouble their efforts during the next round of oversight to do the needful that will determine their inputs when considering the 2018 budget estimate. Earlier, the Leader of the House, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, had said the general principles of the budget were to consolidate on the previous ones, more so as the country has moved out of recession.

He said the 2018 budget would deliver on the objectives of the Buhari administration. Predicated on an oil output of 2.3million metric tonnes per day; and a $45 oil benchmark and N305 exchange rate, Gbajabiamila noted that the bill is for an Act to authorize the issuance of N8.612trn of which N456billion is for statutory transfer, N2,233,835trn is for debt service, N3,494,272,820,219trn for recurrent (non -debt) expenditure, while N2,427,655,113,222trn only is for contribution to the development fund for capital expenditure for the year ending on D

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