Niyi Odebode, John Ameh, Fidelis Soriwei, Everest Amaefule, Ifeanyi Onuba , Leke Baiyewu and Okechukwu Nnodim
As the 2016 budget expired on Friday, the Nigeria Labour Congress and civil rights groups expressed anger against the National Assembly and the executive over the delay in passing the 2017 Appropriation Bill.
The NLC and the groups, in separate interviews with Saturday PUNCH, warned that the delay could harm the economy, adding that it had portrayed Nigeria as not serious with its economic recovery plan.
The Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, had said that the 2017 budget would be passed this week.
But at Thursday’s plenary, he moved a motion that the presentation of the budget report be stepped down.
He said the members of the Senate Committee on Appropriation were working with their House of Representatives’ counterparts to harmonise the budget report.
The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said that there was no cause to worry.
But the General Secretary of the NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, said the congress was concerned about the delay in passing the 2017 budget.
He said, “We are worried about the delay of the budget because it is crucial to the economic planning. We are now in the second quarter and we are still talking about passing the budget.
“That clearly does not help the economy. It does not help the recovery process and we think that the budget is unduly prolonged and it is crucial that quickly, the budget is passed. The National Assembly has the constitutional responsibility to look and make whatever changes to the budget, but it has to be passed.”
Delay in passing budget unnecessary, says CSJ
Also, the Centre for Social Justice, a civil rights organisation, described the delay in passing the budget as unnecessary.
According to the CSJ, Nigeria is already in its fifth month of the year, but unfortunately its budget for the 2017 fiscal year had yet to be passed by the National Assembly.
The CSJ’s Lead Director, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, said that the expectation of many Nigerians was that the appropriation bill would have been passed in December 2016.
He said, “The budget is being passed late. This is the fifth month of the year and it doesn’t make sense. The financial year runs from January to December, we’ve already chopped off four months and presently we are in the fifth month. So it doesn’t make sense.
“The expectation was that the budget should be passed in December (2016) for implementation to start in January (2017) and here we are, nothing like that has happened. And then we create confusion by carrying over budget of 2016 to 2017 and maybe that of 2017 will be moved to 2018.
“All this is unnecessary if the executive and legislature realise that they owe Nigerians a responsibility to make sure that the fiscal year runs normally and that fiscal governance is about bringing development to the people, reducing poverty and inequality.”
On his part, a developmental economist, Odilim Enwagbara, said there was a need for a review of the Fiscal Responsibility Act to make it define properly, the timeline for the preparation of the budget.
He said with well defined timelines for the budget process which must stipulate penalties in case of default, both the executive and the legislature would be forced to work assiduously to meeting with such deadlines.
He said the delay in the passage of the budget had serious negative implications for the economy as it would affect both fiscal and monetary policies.
For instance, he said in the area of fiscal policy, the government cannot release funds for the implementation of capital projects, adding that with a huge infrastructure deficit of $150bn, it would be difficult to address such infrastructure gap with a delayed budget.
He said, “To delay budget is to delay investments. If we were in the United States, government would have been shut down exactly today because the budget expires today.
“Today is the last day of the 2016 budget and if you don’t have a new budget ready to take off, how do you spend for capital projects and pay salaries and even run government?
“Nigeria is far behind in infrastructure investments; we have about $350bn infrastructural deficit and if we do not develop our economy by investing massively in infrastructure, then the deficit will continue to grow.”
The Lead Fellow, Institute of Fiscal Studies of Nigeria and former Managing Director of Unity Bank Plc, Mr. Rislanudeen Muhammed, said there was a need for the executive to submit the Medium Term Expenditure Framework on time to the National Assembly.
He said that while the delay in the passage of the budget might not have any significant impact on recurrent expenditure since there was a provision that allowed government to spend based on previous year’s budget, the capital aspect of the government programmes were usually affected by the delay.
For Idowu Sobowale, a professor of Mass Communication at Covenant University, the delay in the passage of the budget demonstrates a high sense of insensately and un-seriousness on the part of legislators.
He said, “There is no doubt that the delay in passing the budget is going to have adverse effect on the economy generally. The government, as a major player in the economy, would not be able to transact meaningful business that would benefit the economy.
“The delay shows a high degree of insensitivity and un-seriousness on the part of our legislators. They need to have a rethink.”
Attempts to get the reactions of the spokesman for the House, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, failed on Friday as he was out of the country.
The Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Mustapha Bala-Dawaki, could not be reached for comments.
We won’t be deterred by criticisms on budget – Senate
The Senate said it was still determined to pass the budget next week and would not be deterred by criticisms.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said, “They are entitled to their opinions. It is a democracy. Whatever they want to say, they are entitled to it. But for us, we are doing what we need to do and we are not going to be deterred by any comments. We are doing what we need to do and we will definitely get the budget out when it should be out.
“I have already given you the indication that by next week, we should be concluding on the budget. And we are working very hard on it. But if anybody has a contrary view, they are entitled to their opinion.”
Blame NASS –Govt official
Attempts to get the spokesperson for the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Mr. Akpandem James, were not successful as calls and a text message sent to him did not go through as of 6pm on Friday.
But a top Federal Government official confided in one of our correspondents that the executive did all it could to ensure the speedy passage of the budget as the fiscal document was submitted in December last year.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as he was not officially permitted to speak on the matter, said, “The 2016 budget was submitted to the National Assembly in December of that same year and despite the issues of Budget padding and all that, the budget was passed by both chambers in March and signed into law on May 6 last year.
“For the 2017 budget, we did all our best to send it to the parliament on time and that was done in December last year. So one wonders why despite the fact that this year’s budget didn’t have issues like that of last year; yet, it has not been passed. The fault is not from us. Nigerians should know those delaying the budget and ask them questions.”
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