Nigerians may not have heard the last about the passage of the 2018 budget presented to a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7.
Senators in plenary Tuesday threatened to dump the fiscal estimate over alleged inconsistencies and abysmal performance of the 2017 budget.
The lawmakers took turns to criticize the performance of the 2017 budget, taking cognizance of what they called extremely low releases by the Ministry of Finance to fund projected capital projects.
They insisted that the promised passaged of the 2018 budget before the end of the year was no longer feasible.
The senators said that the promise by President Buhari that 40 per cent of the 2017 budget would be achieved before the end of the year while remaining the balance of 60 per cent would be rolled over to 2018, has not be adhered to.
The lawmakers were particularly irked by the observation that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), only attained 15-20 per cent 2017 budget performance.
This, they said, was despite repeated assurances by the executive arm that improvement in releases of funds will be made.
Most MDAs, they said, were yet to receive funds to pay salaries and as well as fund other recurrent components of the 2017 budget.
For them, the declaration by the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, that N750 billion had been released, remained questionable.
Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki’s intervention saved the day as no resolution was taken at the end lengthy debate on the performance of the 2017 budget.
Many of those who contributed to the debate wanted the lifespan of the 2017 budget to be extended to 31st of March, 2018.
It was the opinion of the speakers that until the 2017 budget attained a high level of performance, the implementation of the budget should not be truncated by the passage of the 2018 budget.
The debate of the performance of the 2017 budget followed a closed door session where the lawmakers were also said to have bared their minds.
Although Saraki broached the issue of what really transpired at the closed session, Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah raised a point of order.
Na’Allah cited Order 42 and 45 of the Senate Standing Rules to buttress his point.
The Kebbi South lawmaker told his colleagues that the plan to pass the 2018 budget before the end of 2017 was no longer feasible due to prevailing circumstances.
He warned that the prevailing template of the budget will continue to pose serious challenges to the Federal Government in the implementation of the budget.
Na’Allah noted that the template was developed and adopted during the Military era specifically when Kalu Idika Kalu was Finance minister.
He said that issue should be extensively discussed in order to proffer solutions.
Na’Allah said: “I feel that there are certain aspects that the Senate has so many things to discuss. When we suspended the plenary for two weeks, the intention was to enable committees work. They are supposed to report progress in order to enable the Senate pass the budget before the end of the year or early next year.
“When we suspended plenary, it was with the idea that the committees will swing into action so we can have a tentative date to pass the budget. From what I have seen, we might run into troubled waters. If we have not appreciated what the problems are, it is important for Nigerians to come here and understand what the problem is.
“The template we are using will continue to create problems for us. It was created during the Military era. The template cannot work in our country today. From reports we have had, it is obvious that we have problems. We need to know what the problems are. If we have a 2017 budget that has not been executed today and we are considering the 2018 budget, it means there is a problem.
“The President told us that the 2017 budget was going to achieve at least 60 per cent performance. Today, that has not happened. We need to lay this issue and discuss it. Let us put the facts before the Executive and show Nigerians the difficulties we are facing.”
Senator Barnabas Gemade, in his contribution suggested that the consideration of the 2018 budget be suspended.
He also suggested that the lifespan of the 2017 budget be extended to end of March of 2018.
Gemade said, “This point of order raised is important because of what the public is waiting for. Our two weeks committee work should have led us to where we will lay the report and pass the budget. As was indicted, we need to appreciate the efforts of the executive who is trying to return the budget year from January to December.
“What we have seen is far from the 40 per cent capital project implementation we were told. In many MDAs, budget performance is hovering between 12 to 15 per cent. In early November, the borrowing plans were brought and we approved it. They said they were going to release more funds. As of now, we cannot say if that is true.
“In defending the budget, MDAs are supposed to bring their 2017 budget performance to committees. When you look at the budget proposals brought here, many things captured in the 2017 budget were not rolled over. Committees and MDAs need to do some work.
“We have to set a date for the implementation of the 2017 budget based on the borrowing plans we approved. I therefore propose that we set March 31st for the 2017 budget to be implemented before we can start working on the 2018 budget. We need to guide against abandonment of ongoing projects.”
Senator Solomon Adeola wondered why the Senate should consider and approve the 2018 budget, when the performance of the 2017 budget is unknown.
The Lagos West senator prayed the Senate to invite the Minister of Finance, Mrs Adeosun to brief the chamber on the troubling low performance of the budget and why her Ministry is not releasing funds.
Adeola said, “How can we approve the 2018 budget without knowing the performance of 2017 budget? This is abnormal. From the recent budget defences, it is obvious that MDAs are not ready. Year in, year out, the budget performance is low. Last week, a Minister was asked to excuse lawmakers because he did come prepared. He did not come with the necessary documents to defend the budget of his Ministry.
“We need to show to Nigerians that the National Assembly is ready to approve the budget. Remember that the President during the presentation of the 2018 budget, said the performance of the 2017 budget will attain at least 40 per cent. But that has not been done. I am suggesting that we invite the Minister of Finance to brief us on the performance of the 2017 budget. We need to be told.
“Remember how the Executive submitted the MTEF and withdrew it again. It submitted it and withdrew it again. It shows the lack of seriousness on the part of economic managers of the country.”
Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Account, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, noted that the consideration of the 2018 budget be suspended, pending when the 2017 budget will attain appreciable level of performance.
He said, “I want to say that the budget of 2018 is already bedeviled. For us to be able to determine the 2018, we need to see the performance of 2017. Many MDAs are complaining that what they are getting for recurrent expenditure is not even for them. More worrisome is the capital expenditure.
“Last week, the Minister of Finance announced that N750 billion had been released. If this money has been released, MDAs are yet to get this money. With the envelope budgeting they are doing, we do not know what has been given to MDAs.
“I want to say that every consideration about the 2018 budget should be put at bay. This executive is not serious. Let them tell us what they have done with the 2017 budget. The budget presentation is an annual ritual that is not benefiting anybody,” he said.
Senator Mohammed Hassan, (Yobe South) proposed the setting up of a technical committee to come up with a standard format on how to handle the 2018 budget.
He specifically listed the inclusion of N8.5 billion in the budget of Ministry of Power for counterpart funding of the Mambila Power projected when the National Assembly had already approved a loan of $5.5 billion for the presidency.
He noted that the Senate was told that part of the $5.5 billion loan would be used for the counterpart funding of the Mambila power project.
Hassan said: “Many of us have been made to do the work of the executive. We need to set up a small technical committee to come up with a standard format on how to handle the 2018 budget. It is very important to do that.”
Senator Dino Melaye, on his part, described the 2018 budget as a ‘boju boju’ document.
The Kogi West lawmaker said that it was obvious that the 2018 budget proposal was “garnished with deception.”
He stated: “The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, said during the budget presentation that the 2017 budget will be rolled over. I took the 2017 budget and went through it page by page. There is no relationship between the two documents. The budget we received was a ‘boju boju’ budget. Why do we package a 2018 budget that was garnished with deception”
“There is about N850 trillion with the CBN. There is an outstanding of N1.5 trillion from collection of stamp duties with the CBN. This money has not been remitted. Yet we took over N2 trillion loan. We need to strengthen the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
“The NNPC was supposed to remit hundreds of billions of naira last year. They did not do that. Yet, we say we are fighting corruption. We cannot continue in sin and ask grace to abound. The issue of discussing the 2018 budget should not even arise.
“Enough is enough. We must ensure that the 2017 budget is properly implemented. We must ensure that the budget is an elitist. What they have brought to us is a just a proposal. We need to give Nigerians a budget that will benefit Nigerians.”
Saraki who did not subject the points and proposal made to vote noted that if the executive refused to act, by rolling over the 2017 budget as promised, it will be a disaster.
Saraki added that lawmakers are not magicians.
He said, “Truly, it is very disheartening and disappointing because we know how much we have put into the budget process. How can anybody who is responsible travel at this period when the budget defence is ongoing?
“The budget has not been implemented. We cannot be magicians. We just have to work and give a good budget to Nigerians. The executive really needs to sit up. If they have refused to roll over the 2017 projects into 2018, it is a disaster. We have to work with what we have.”