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Before 2018 Budget Travels The Familiar Road

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With the presentation of the 2018 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, it is important for all the actors in the budgeting process to avoid the pitfalls of the past and work together in unison for the collective goal. Olawale Olaleye writes

Emphasis on time proved an essential factor in a budget process as President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, side-stepped some of the tardiness often associated with budget presentation since he assumed office in 2015. This time, he consciously moved to restore the budget calendar to the January-December fiscal cycle.

Tagged the budget of consolidation, Buhari, on Tuesday presented N8.612 trillion 2018 Appropriation Bill to a joint session of the National Assembly, which represented a 16 per cent increase over the N7.441 trillion 2017 budget.

According to the breakdown, of the N8.6 trillion estimate, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing got the lion share of N555.8 billion, signifying the administration’s commitment to infrastructure development, expand the economy and create more employment opportunities.

The Bill also proposed N2.428 trillion as capital expenditure, representing 30.8 per cent of the budget, N3.494 trillion for recurrent expenditure, N2.014 trillion for debt servicing, N456 billion for statutory transfers, and N220 billion for the Sinking Fund to retire maturing bonds to local contractors.

As it is, the key parameters and assumptions for the 2018 budget proposal were set out in the yet-to-be approved 2018-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), which had been committed to the Senate and House Committees on Finance, Appropriation and National Planning.

Apparently impressed by this positive turn of event, especially with the timely presentation of the budget, the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, hinged the early passage of the budget on the cordial relations between the executive and the legislative arms of government.

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To say that the last two budgets were far from being impressive is not only saying the obvious but alluding to the thinking of a majority of Nigerians as evidenced by facts. With a rather poor kick-off in 2016, which resulted in controversies – ranging from the budget being declared missing to having two copies of it in circulation and later allegations of padding – the 2016 budget seemed jinxed from the start.

But if anyone had thought that the 2016 budget would be gone with such mediocrity, you only needed to have waited for the 2017 fiscal projection. It was as if government learnt nothing from the experience of 2016 and the same thing, with even worse characterization fraught that bill.

This would later result in bitter rivalry between the legislature and the executive to the extent that the budget was stalled for so long, unfortunately with avoidable diatribes between the lawmakers and some of the key ministers. In a nutshell, the 2017 budget was a poorer version of the tawdry and mediocre process that typified that of 2016.

But with the step taken last Tuesday by Buhari through an early presentation of the budget, an idea conceived to meet his administration’s target of restoring the budget calendar, the 2018 budget may eventually travel a different road that may impact the economy positively, at least before the next election. The time may be short but not insufficient to establish change in a way that would redefine the entire curve of development.

The president put it succinctly when he contended that, “Nigeria’s journey out of the recent recession was a revealing one. We heard many opinions from within and outside Nigeria on how best to address our economic woes. We listened carefully and studied these proposals diligently.

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“Our belief has always been that the quickest and easiest solution may not necessarily be the best solution for a nation as diverse as ours. We took our time to create a balanced and equitable response, keeping in mind that only tailored Nigerian solutions can fix Nigeria’s unique problems.” That is it…evolving a Nigerian solution to a Nigerian problem in a manner addresses the realities.

But Saraki’s prognosis is a reminder that it is not yet uhuru. Listen to him: “Many businesses were adversely affected by the recession; many lost their means of livelihood. As the country emerges from that period of uncertainty, the question on the lips of many Nigerians has been this: How does the recovery translate into tangible economic benefits for me?
“We must remember that the real gains must be felt on a personal level by the individual, for economic recovery to have meaning. People are seeking to get back to work but cannot find jobs.”

These are the issues that the 2018 budget must address. It is too late to start mealy-mouthing what the issues are when it is almost the twilight of the administration. There is pain, hunger, anguish, anger and staggering disappointment in the land, all of which the two last budgets have failed to address. Maybe, just maybe, the 2018 budget will attempt an effort. It is then the consolidation which this budget proposes can begin to have a meaning, even to the average person on the street.