President Muhammadu Buhari may have this year’s budget uppermost in his mind when he was convalescing abroad recently, and that has explained why two days after his return home he met the presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly over the progress so far made. President Buhari left the country few days after presenting the 7.2 trillion Naira 2017 budget to the National Assembly, hoping that it will be passed on good time, but efforts put in towards actualizing his expectation was not sufficient enough to ensure its hasty passage. The meeting President Buhari had with leaders of the National Assembly had after all revealed that March 30, earlier slated for the budget’s passage was unrealistic.
That was because about eighty- six out of the ninety-six standing committees of the House of Representatives have failed to produce any report on this year’s budget, a development which had indicated that the passage may be delayed for a while. It was fairly recently the Committee on Appropriation wrote the House for the second time complaining about the inability of over eighty percent of the committees to submit their reports on the budget. That may be interpreted to mean that just about ten out of ninety-six committees had produced their reports, having consistently been failing to do so for over three weeks. The speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara who formally announced to his colleagues the complaints of the committees over their incapability to produce their reports hinted that the House may be forced to pass all executive proposals in the budget in the absence of their reports.
The inability of the committees to prepare their reports on the budget may not be unconnected with so many unresolved issues with ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government regarding the details of their budget proposals. Reports have indicated that even as at last week the committees were still struggling to reconcile figures after obtaining details from few ministries and agencies. Needless to say, these committee reports are very essential to the preparations of the budget without which it will also not be passed by the legislature.
Besides, there are also many pertinent issues relating to the budget proposal which have not been resolved so as to pave way for its smooth passage. For instance, will the proposed budget size be increased or reduced? Is the benchmark for crude oil price stipulated in the proposals to be retained? Is the projected three-hundred-and-five Naira per dollar exchange rate going to remain so, or will it change? With these questions unanswered, and many other unresolved issued hanging around, the tentative date for the passage of the budget was no longer feasible. Apart from the delay constituted by non availability of committees’ reports, the Federal Executive Council was still approving additional projects to be included in the 2017 budget, several months after it was endorsed by it and presented to the National Assembly by President Buhari.
With regards to the Senate, the same scenario is being played out: committees were also unable to prepare and submit their reports and accordingly, the period for the submission to the Appropriation Committee for harmonization has been extended. The Appropriation committee is, therefore, expected to present a unified report to the Senate at a later date for passage. It is significant to also note the delay in the preparation and submission of the reports in the Upper Chamber was also caused by other legislative works which included confirmation hearings of some presidential nominees for important statutory positions. All said and done, this money bill must without further delay be transformed into a workable Money Act because it is too important to be unnecessarily delayed by the excessiveness of unwilling or uncooperative civil servants and degenerate politicians. The nation is waiting eagerly and impatiently, and no excuse will be accepted for delaying it further, no matter how plausible or unassailable.
It, therefore, appears that the efforts put in by the National Assembly to further accelerate moves to revitalize the comatose economy were unsatisfactory and have left much to be desired. The prevailing hardships in the country have really been bogging down the people who could not endure the provisional difficulties and are now remonstrating, hoping that the change, pledged by President Buhari, should actually manifest with the application of the spirit of this year’s budget.
It is suggested that there exists a set of despicable people hell-bent on sabotaging the efforts of both the National Assembly and the Presidency to put in place a workable budget that will remedy the numerous socio-economic as well as political problems that have plagued this nation. In this regard, the National Assembly and the Civil Service, saddled with the responsibility of making this year’s budget a reality, must hasten to resolve the mess, real and imagined, created around the Appropriation Bill. The two stakeholders must realize that the public, for whom they toil and labor over the budget, will never forgive them if their trusts are eventually betrayed over this important issue which is expected to consolidate the emergent trend of change promised by this administration.