2018 budget: Can Nigerians rely on Reps’ April 24 promise?

Passing the 2018 Appropriation by the National Assembly has surprisingly been delayed beyond the expectations of Nigerians. JOSHUA EGBODO writes.
Raised expectation
This was so, more because President Muhammadu Buhari laid the N8.612 trillion aggregate expenditure proposals for the 2018 fiscal year fairly early enough, precisely on November 7, 2018. With the budget laid, leadership of the House of Representatives directed its standing committees to swing into action, as a two week suspension of regular plenary was instituted to allow the committees engage federal government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) under their respective oversight supervision in the annual ritual of budget performance appraisals, and defence of their projections.

Thorns on the path
However, the December 2017 initial passage target of the parliament was not to be, as committees of the House cried out that heads of MDAs were not responding to invitations to defend their budgets. Spokesman of the House, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas was later to confirm that the intention of the House to pass the budget before proceeding on the Yuletide break was no longer sacrosanct, and also with no new deadline set.
Prior to the ceremonial laying of the budget estimates by the President, it was clear that all was not well, as lawmakers were disenchanted by the poor release of funds to execute their zonal intervention (constituency) projects in 2017. But for the last minute intervention of the then, freshly appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who hurriedly held fence-mending meetings with leaders of the parliament, the budget wouldn’t have been laid on that date.
The not-so-open rift between the presidency and the parliament was later to be made public by the President himself, who at a function announced that the misunderstanding between the two arms of government was slowing down his government’s performance.
But the parliament was not happy with the President’s attempt at passing the buck to the National Assembly, because in its opinion, it was unfair for the executive to blame the lawmakers for delay in passing the budget, since it could not be approved without MDAs defending their needs as contained in their respective estimates.
President Buhari, was only to close to a forthright ago, in what many analysts have termed “belated”, convened a special meeting with the leadership of both houses of the National Assembly over the way forward on the budget. It emerged that the President was briefed on the non-cooperative attitudes of some of his ministers, and heads of agencies to provide details of their budgets as required by law. Buhari followed with a subsequent directive to all MDAs to submit details of their 2018 budget estimate to the appropriate committees of the National Assembly not later than Friday, March 23.

Knocks, directives to heads of MDAs
“It has come to the attention of Government that a number of Agencies, Corporations and Government owned Companies have not fully complied with the provisions of Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007. Agencies are reminded that the FRA 2007 provides that consequent upon laying of summary of budget estimates of Agencies listed in the schedule to FRA alongside the National Budget by Mr. President, it is required that details of such budgets be made available to the National Assembly for consideration and passage”, a circular by the SGF conveying the directive stated.

Reps’ deadline
Also days after the meeting, the House of Representatives announced that the 2018 Appropriation Bill would be passed on April 24, 2018. Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara while reading out a communication from his deputy, Hon. Yussuff Lasun, said a harmonised committee of both houses has proposed to lay the budget report on April 19, 2018, so it can subsequently be passed on April 24, 2018.
“We are proposing that we are laying the budget finally on the 19th of April 2018, hopefully we will be passing the budget on 24 April, 2018. This is a harmonised calendar with the Senate”, he had stated.
There were notable positive responses from the MDAs at heels of the new development, especially in the House of Representatives, and it is hopeful that the April 24 deadline may be met.

Pessimism persists
But many Nigerians are yet pessimistic, especially with unconfirmed allegations that committees were demanding bribes from MDAs, as requisite to having their budgets passed. There have also been palpable fears that the controversy of budget padding may rear its head in no time, as efforts are on to have a working budget for the government. For the citizens, they can only wait in hope, whether the new date will be a reality.

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