By Babajide Omoworare
Pursuant to Section 59 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR assented to the 2020 Appropriation Bill (Budget) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Tuesday December 17, 2019. The budget circle will therefore starts to run from the first day of January 2020.
On Thursday December 5, 2019 both the Senate and the House of Representatives had passed the 2020 Appropriation Bill of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the sum of N10,594,362,364,830.00 (Ten Trillion, Five Hundred and Ninety-Four Billion,
Three Hundred and Sixty-Two Million, Three Hundred and Sixty-Four Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Naira), after both Chambers had earlier respectively dissolved into Committee of Supply.
Clean copies were prepared and certified in accordance with Section 2 (1) of the Acts Authentication Act Cap. A2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, by the Clerk of the National Assembly, and thereafter transmitted to the President of the Republic.
As we will recollect, the President presented the Budget to the Joint Sitting of the National Assembly on Tuesday October 8, 2019 in furtherance of Section 81 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The early passage of the 2020 budget before the end of the 2019 fiscal year signals the return to a January – December budget circle after about a score of its disruption.
By the provisions of Section 318 of the Constitution, “financial year” means ‘any period of twelve months beginning on the first day of January in any year or such other date as the National Assembly may prescribe’ therefore, there is a presupposition that the fiscal year starts on the first day of January.
Hitherto, budgets are traditionally presented to the National Assembly middle of December when both the public service and the private sector were preparing for Christmas and New Year recess.
The National Assembly would thereafter spend an average of about 4 months to process the Appropriation Bill. The process was usually embroiled with claims and counter claims that Ministers and Heads of Departments and Agencies were not coming as and when scheduled to defend their budgets.
The budget will thereafter spend an average of a month with the executive arm of government before the Presidential assent is endorsed thereon.
Examples are replete. The 2002 budget was processed for over 4 months in the National Assembly, same goes for the 2008 and 2015 budgets.
The 2011 budget was processed in the National Assembly for over five months. The 2018 budget was presented to the National Assembly on November 7, 2017, it was sent for presidential assent on May 16, 2018 and it was assented on June 20, 2018. It spent over six months in the National Assembly.
It almost became a ritual that the Senate Leader and of course, the Leader of the House of Representatives would propose a Bill for the elongation of the capital head of the current budget for three months because Section 82 of the Constitution envisages that the President can expend only on recurrent alone, in the event that the budget has not been passed.
The benefits of passing the budget on time cannot be sufficiently enumerated. Predictability of the financial year, inter alia, allows for effective planning for investors right from the beginning of the year to determine in which sector to invest. This was a culture we were accustomed to even under military regimes.
Passing the budget on time is not a case of sacrificing quality on the altar of speed. It is on record that further to the directives of Mr. President, Ministers and Heads of Departments and Agencies defended their budgets as and when time was allocated to them by the National Assembly.
Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the National Assembly showed commitment by sitting for very long hours. In some cases, Joint Committee Sessions were held; thereby reducing/avoiding the need for conferencing/harmonising under Order 87 of the Senate Rules and Order XII Rule 11 of the House of Representatives Rules.
Nigeria has enjoyed two decades of uninterrupted democratic rule. Despite the high turn over of legislators, experience has set in for some Senators and Honourable members that have returned to the same or higher hallowed chambers of parliament.
Several members have served over the years in the Appropriation Committee. We must also not under estimate the capacity of National Assembly’s bureaucracy that has oiled its machinery over the years so much so that it has also become very efficient.
Most of appropriation sub-committee clerks have been in the National Assembly for over a decade and most of them have manned the same committee for that long.
The role of the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies in capacity development of the National Assembly staff cannot be over-emphasised.
The determination on the part of both the Executive and the Legislature played no small part in churning out the budget on time.
Just like the President times without number mentioned that he is desirous of moving the budget circle back to January, this was also a cardinal point in the respective Legislative Agenda of both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Presiding Officers reiterated this on numerous occasions. Both arms of government simply walked the talk.
The fact that something has never been done before does not mean the door is closed on efforts to pioneer in respect thereof.
This is an impetus for government to be more audacious in its efforts to take Nigeria to the next level; leveraging, without much ado on the window open to us at the moment.
The first two and a half years of any Legislature (understandably so) is the most productive, before campaigns and electioneering season.
Co-operation, collaboration and coordination between the Executive and Legislature is a sine qua non to good governance. Compromises must be made to build consensus.
The flip side is unthinkable – conflict, crisis, catastrophe. Our recent history has shown that we were on the precipice of the last index. Strife, tension, discord, disharmony and schism between the two arms of government is a prescription for ineffective and inefficient government.
With a view to ensuring the groundswell of the revenue end of the budget, it is important to note that the synergy between the Executive and the Legislature culminated in the enactment of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin (Production Sharing Contract) (Amendment) Act.
The interaction has also positively impacted on the passage of the Finance Bill and the Bureau of Public Procurement (Amendment) Bill.
Whilst it may be argued that Legislators are voted for in any event to pass budgets as swiftly as possible, this government (both Executive and Legislature, that is) has demonstrated desire to work together for the good of the Nation without compromising each other’s independence.
The dexterity, readiness and behest with which the 9th National Assembly has attended to matters of urgent public importance is worth commending.
It is my fervent hope that the mutual relationship will not stop at passing the budget but also other “front-burner” Bills that will ensure economic growth, infrastructural development, anti-corruption, security and welfare of citizenry.
These Bills may include but not limited to those possibly rejigging the Electoral Act, having a keener look at the anti-corruption Bills (or amendments Bills, as the case may be), addressing economic and infrastructural issues to have effect in the petroleum, road, rail, ports, corporate sectors and Bills impacting security, anti-terrorism and law enforcement.
My further take is that the conducive interaction between the Executive and the Legislature could foster 2020 budget implementation and thereafter ensure early yearly budgeting, monitoring and evaluation. It would even ease oversight.
The synergy should also be a basis of getting to the next level of ensuring that we institutionalise national planning and economic development.
This will make annual budgeting, benchmarking and tracking of plans, programs, policies and projects easier. As experience as shown in Brazil, Finland, South Korea etc. it may be the nexus between Research and Innovation on one hand and Economic Development on the other.
- Omoworare is Senior Special Assistand to the President, National Assembly Matters (Senate)
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