Nigeria Needs Stringent Budget Deadlines

By Odilim Enwegbara
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Nigeria’s perennial budgetary problems can only be solved with a law setting stringent budgetary deadlines — from the budget’s presentation, passage, and signing to setting implementation milestones. That our kind of present budgetary problems have since been solved by most modern economies around the world is because these countries finding themselves in our present perennial budgetary difficulties, passed laws, which by insisting on stringent adherence to set down dates and deadlines on their budgetary matters eventually did away with the problems.

In other words, what should be our justifications for presenting budgets so tardy to the extent that in most cases they are presented just few days to beginning of the fiscal year, when our peer modern and dynamic economies, as a result of stringent laws present and pass their appropriation bills many months ahead before implementation commencement date?

Or since when has budget planning and preparation become such a rocket science, especially in our own case where until the 2016 budget, it has been so a routinized and templated process with figures so arbitrarily rolled out with little or no serious qualitative analysis of the contributions to the overall economic development and the wellbeing of the citizenry?

Had past governments taken budget implementation as an important litmus test of good governance, no doubt, past governments should have made sure that the country’s budgetary matters are attended to timely.

Since overseeing budget planning and execution is now the core responsibility of the ministry of budget and national planning, there is no doubt that henceforth, there wouldn't be any justifiable reason for any future lateness in both budget presentation and its implementation in Nigeria. In other words, the lateness in the presentation of the 2016 budget ought to be the last in the history of budget presentation in Nigeria.

Insistence on early budget presentation has some obvious advantages. First, it gives an ample opportunity for lawmakers to exhaustively deliberate on it and harmonise differences emanating from the two chambers. Second, there’s enough time for procurement, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation planning.

Third, the level of transparency that accompanies public participation makes budget more responsive to the needs and priorities of the citizens. Fourth, in promoting transparency, it becomes a fiscal instrument for promoting strategic priorities that deliver maximum value for money, as well as ensure that borrowed money is truly used in promoting growth and development.

Also, early budget presentation, passage and signing will always make it extremely difficult to bypass the stringent public procurement rules as mandated by the 2007 Fiscal Responsibility Act, especially since these rules are made purposefully to engender transparency and accountability.

To ensure stringent implementation, the law should reemphasise that the budget cannot be presented without being accompanied with its Annual Cash Plans and Disbursement Schedule as mandated by sections 25 and 26 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. It should also insist on the illegality of turning the weekly Federal Executive Council (Wednesdays) meetings into a lobbying ground for such indiscriminate budget implementation rather than for sharpening national economic policies and strategies.

To engender transparency and accountability in the management of capital projects as international best practices demand, besides insisting on all information regarding the budget being posted on the Internet for free viewing and comment by Nigerians online, the law should also insist on a quarterly televised progress reports on the performance of the year’s budget for Nigerians to see where and how their money is spent.

Part of the stringent law on implementation is the inclusion of a section that insists on impeachment of any president that allows his or her government to violate the country’s appropriation act in a way that undermines its implementation benefits to the people.

The bone of contention like oil price benchmark should be done away with as the country steadily moves to tax based budgeting. The new law should insist on government growing the tax-to-budget ratio to reach as high as 60 per cent by 2019 and eventually to 100 per cent by 2025.

Also Fiscal Responsibility Act should be amended to insist on increasingly growing the capital portion to 60 per cent by 2019 and 85 per cent by 2025 while budget-to-GDP ratio to be increased from its present about 4 per cent to 25 per cent by 2019 and 35 per cent by 2025.

Taking its new-found responsibilities seriously, lawmakers should ensure that the National Assembly Budget Office (NABO), is well-funded and well-staffed to attract and retain some of Nigeria’s finest economic policy specialists which is very important if the legislative arm wants to carry out the proper re-ordering of budgetary provisions.

The legislative arm's moderation of the executive excesses, should include setting targets like oil price benchmarks, overall budgetary expenditures, overall budgetary revenues, for deficits and public debts. NABO should provide awmakers authentic periodic forecasts and analysis of the economic trends, particularly economic best policies and strategies.

The good news is that this government has brought in Mr Udoma Udo Udoma, a seasoned politician, a former senate appropriation chairman, and above all, a a respected gentleman as the budget and national planning minister. Unlike before when so-called technocrats were the ones interfacing with the lawmakers in budgetary matters. Their lack of good negotiation and lobbying skills that comes with good political skills seasoned politicians usually possess, caused budget delays.

Enwegbara writes from Abuja

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