Budget presentation by the Executive Arm of Government to the National Assembly for Appropriation has since become nothing but an annual hollow, redundant ritual. The budget is never implemented, thus making nonsense of the time and expense deployed to passing it into law in the first place. The 2014 Budget is no exception either.
The first signs that 2014 Budget is also doomed to fail like the rest started with the President and the National Assembly disagreeing on the Oil Benchmark. Owing to this, the President had to delegate the Minister of Finance to perform the presentation ritual, the first time it is happening in Nigeria. Though the President is not duty-bound by the Constitution or any other extant law to lay the budget in person, it has since become a welcome tradition that he does so and it also offers the President an opportunity to feel the legislative arm of government and create a latitude for a sustained camaraderie and rapprochement between the arms of government. So, for the President to decline, and not for any national exigency, is indicative of impending turbulent budget year. One also can only hope that the budget get passed within the 2nd Quarter of 2014, as the First Quarter appears doomed already with the National Assembly resuming only on the 15th of January.
The content of the 2014 budget proposal is not inspiring. Over 70% of the entire budget is going to Recurrent Expenditure. Out of the N4.6 Trillion budget for 2014, only 27% is for Capital. If passed generally as it is, out of this 27%, only about 30% will eventually be implemented, going by when the budget will be passed which can not be earlier than April, and going by the 2013 budget performance, which dismally stands at about 35%. We need to also note that things like computers are listed as Capital whereas they are not, in the strict sense. Are we really serious about exiting poverty and underdevelopment by servicing only recurrent expenditure?
The Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had once promised to devise ways to drastically reduce Recurrent Expenditure and shore up the Capital. But from what she laid before the National Assembly, one can see she is not working in that direction or she has given in.
There is no way Nigeria can exit the poverty belt in the manner the issue of Budget is handled. Fact is: actual development is hinged on Capital development. There has never been a time, since the return to Civil Rule in 1999, where Recurrent Expenditure is not implemented 100% and this essentially goes for the servicing of the bloated bureaucracy and political office holders, to the detriment of the economy and suffering masses.
Recurrent Expenditure has very little if not nothing to do with the suffering masses of Nigeria. Whereas Capital Expenditure, which is where the masses can feel the impact of development and dividends of democracy, has never been implemented up to 50% since 1999.
Over the years, the rate of Capital budget performance has continued to dwindle; this year’s budget performance is clearly below 40% where it comes to Capital whereas Government has already hit 100% implementation of Recurrent Expenditure. Government does not exist for the sole servicing of bureaucracy and politicians. The people who directly benefit from these amorphous budgets are not up to 1% of Nigeria’s population, and something must be done to focus more on the rest 99%, by reducing the cost of running Government in Nigeria, which appears too expensive.
The way and manner therefore budgets are prepared, passed and implemented in Nigeria is nothing but annual ritualistic redundancy and cannot lead to staged development. In fact, it has led to further disarticulation of the economy and making it impossible for the country to be economically independent. Neocolonial economies can become independent if production is encouraged and need of citizens to purchase mainly foreign goods put in check. But today, Nigeria is not budgeting for the stimulation of productivity and doing something to add value to the primary products the nation exports, especially oil.
The Executive Arm is also known to blatantly violate the Appropriation Act by simply ignoring it and carrying on regardless of its provisions, despite being a (pivotal) law. Examples of this abound: the President was reported days ago to have instructed the Minister of Finance to find funds for the National Confab and there is no place such funds are provided for in the budget before the National Assembly. Another example; Stella Oduah just approved the purchase of bullet proof cars and other vehicles running into about a billion naira without any appropriation, as shown in the Report of the House Committee on Aviation headed by Hon. Onyejeocha, turned in just this week. Whereas the 1999 Constitution as amended, clearly stipulates that there shall be no Governmental Expenditure without appropriation.
The willful and flagrant violation of the Appropriation Act forms part of the culture of impunity, which is destroying the nation by fueling corruption, as institutions of Government are trampled upon by the same Government officials who should strengthen and defend them. Impunity breeds corruption and corruption breeds underdevelopment, as the funds meant for development are stolen in broad-day light.
Nigeria needs to make a clean break from the current undemocratic practice and do away with the prevailing culture of impunity and executive lawlessness, for violation of the Appropriation Act is an assault on the Constitution and therefore a grave offense, apart from the injury it inflicts on macroeconomic planning and development of the country.
Let us make a square facing to nation building and national development and where to start is by ensuring that at no time is the Recurrent Expenditure higher than the Capital Expenditure. For a growing economy, it is the only way to ensure Staged Development.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters