2016 Budget Gridlock Harmful To Economy
THE budget impasse, triggered by lawmakers’ distortions of the document for their selfish interests, is yet another blotch on our barely one-year-old Eighth National Assembly. The plague, the usual harbinger of a long-drawn standoff between the legislative and the executive arms of government, raises some doubt about the legislators’ commitment to national duty. This is not what to expect at a time when there ought to be a concerted effort at national renewal. Budget delay will worsen our economic woes.
The N6.06 trillion Appropriation Bill was passed into law by the parliament on March 23, and forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent. Curiously, its details were not attached. A distraught President declined, and rightly so, to append his signature to the document. What the parliamentarians were hiding, however, is now in the open: the N100 billion embedded in the budget for their so-called constituency projects.
Projects worth N40 billion, beneficial to constituencies of the leadership of the two chambers, transfer of funds to roads without feasibility studies just yet, and the mindless slashing of funds provided for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Second Niger Bridge, and the Sagamu-Benin Expressway are among the vexatious issues. But the non-inclusion of the N60 billion Lagos-Calabar rail project, for which China is to provide counterpart funding, has escalated public interest in
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, insists that the project was not in the original budget from the executive. Gbenga Ashafa, from Lagos State, who chairs the Senate Committee on Land Transportation, while admitting this, says the project was forwarded to his committee later by the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, during his budget defence, and it was duly transmitted to the appropriation committees of the two houses.
The importance of the rail project is beyond question. Most roads in the country have been destroyed, turned into death traps by tankers and trailers’ daily haulage activities that would have otherwise been done through rail transport. The railway is a critical national infrastructure, whose revamp will stimulate the economy in job creation and business start-ups. The two chambers’ exclusion of the project from the 2016 budget, and justification of their action, underscore their myopia, callousness and indifference to national interest.
Our federal lawmakers have for too long abused their powers of appropriation as enshrined in Section 80 (3) of the 1999 Constitution. The intent of the constitution was not to invest in them the power to manipulate national expenditures to their advantage or hold the executive hostage during the budget consideration, but to act as check against financial recklessness. If the initiation of projects or preparing budget estimates falls within their purview, or it is a joint venture undertaking, it would have been expressly stated in the constitution. Such right under our Constitution is the exclusive preserve of the Executive arm.
Buhari should not succumb to the wily overtures of the National Assembly demanding him to sign the budget and, later, forward his amendments through a supplementary bill. Once a bill is signed, it becomes an Act of Parliament, which he is statutorily bound to implement. It is a well-laid ambush he should avoid. Providing for the sinking of boreholes, purchase of tricycles and grinding machines, building of town halls, vocational training centres and pedestrian bridges in a national budget has bred corruption and turned lawmakers to contractors in the past.
These projects are either usually badly executed or abandoned. Besides, previous presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Umaru Yar’Adua, stood against these budget perversions. These are rural projects that fall under the schedule of states and local governments. Most boreholes in various wards across the country sunk under this scheme are in disuse; rural roads tarred hardly survive beyond the tenure of the lawmakers that attracted them. Indeed, this cycle of waste and fraud sits oddly with governance in a federal set-up that we purport to practise. And this hogwash should stop.
It is just as well that Jubrin and his counterpart in the Senate, Danjuma Goje, are being challenged by their colleagues for their roles in the budget gridlock. One of them is accused of cornering more than N4 billion projects for his constituency to the indignation of his peers. Feeling alienated, the South-West and South-South legislative caucuses in the Senate and House have advised the President not to sign the budget until the parliament makes reversals.
When lawmakers don’t see the need to provide funds for a major public health epidemic like HIV/AIDs, which affects millions of lives, but unscrupulously inject N100 billion for their constituency projects, it underscores their rank insensitivity and negligence. The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, had raised the alarm over this omission which is two years running during his interactive session with the legislators over the budget. According to the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, only 800,000 HIV/AIDS patients out of 3.5 million Nigerian victims of the disease have access to treatment. International donors have since withdrawn their assistance.
The National Assembly’s shenanigans will make it difficult for the government to spur enough economic growth to reverse the damage caused by falling oil prices. This is unfortunate, but not surprising. It painfully illustrates the glaring disconnect between the people and their “elected” representatives. However, the executive should learn from this stalemate. Its untidiness in preparing the budget initially sent to the parliament in December, but later withdrawn, contributed to this mess. The country deserves a better performance.