Both chambers of the National Assembly have berated the Federal Government’s 2018 budget proposal, saying its assumptions are unrealistic.
The Senate and the House of Representatives, which began debates on the 2018 Appropriations Bill on Tuesday, flayed the Federal Government for not implementing the 2017 budget.
For instance, the Senate said the capital component of the 2017 budget had not been implemented up to 20 per cent.
The upper chamber also urged the Federal Government to sell or scrap agencies such as the National Orientation Agency, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Voice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Television Authority.
It said the government had been spending money on the agencies, which had not been adding any value to the country.
The debate started on a dramatic note when Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe dismissed the 2018 budget proposal as being “fictitious.”
The Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, however, raised a point of order and faulted Abaribe for describing the bill presented by President Muhammadu Buhari as fictitious. Lawan urged the lawmaker to withdraw the word “fictitious” and use another word that was “parliamentary and acceptable.”
Withdrawing the word, Abaribe insisted on his position, saying, “I am just quoting the Senate Leader from his speech, in which he said the 2018 budget was designed to consolidate on the achievements of the 2016 and 2017 budgets. What was done in 2017 when less than 15 per cent of that budget was released? Nothing was done and that was why I called it (the 2018 budget proposal) fictitious. I am very sorry if that is the word he is bothered about. I will withdraw the word ‘fictitious’ and use ‘totally imaginary’.
“In what sense will this 2018 budget be predicated on assumptions that have already been destroyed? You are assuming N11tn, yet you are getting less than N1tn. How does that happen? That is why I said, with all due respect to my colleagues, that it is imaginary.
“I am saying that rather than continuing to debate this (budget) that has no basis in reality, we may just continue to beg this government to please be specific in the indications the assumptions underlying this budget. The assumptions are totally wrong, totally off the mark, and, therefore, the 2018 budget is already dead on arrival.”
‘It is wishful thinking’
Also, Senator Joshua Lidani urged the Senate to first examine the performance of the 2017 budget, which he said was “very abysmal to say the least.” He described the proposed 2018 budget as “wishful thinking.”
He said, “It is expected that by the end of the year, only 50 per cent of the capital fund would have been released. That is even a statement of intention. It is not certain that that amount would be released.
“So, we will end up having a budget that has performed below expectation. And it is on this budget that we are now predicating the 2018 budget. Unless we get the 2017 budget right and analyse what went wrong, we will be building the 2018 budget on a very weak foundation.”
According to him, Nigeria’s non-oil revenue fell by 74 per cent in 2017, adding, “This is very disturbing and alarming indeed, especially when you consider the fact that the 2018 budget is predicated heavily on non-oil revenue.”
Lidani stated that the non-oil revenue was supposed to contribute N4.165tn, which is almost 50 per cent of the N8.6tn budget.
“If something goes wrong and we don’t realise this N4.165tn, it means the budget will be as good as dead. This budget is wishful thinking. If we don’t get the fundamentals right, we are going to have a budget that will perform below expectation,” he added.
Contributing, Senator Yusuf Yusuf pointed out that the global economy was still unstable, a situation he said was affecting Nigeria’s economy. He noted that the country was still relying on oil and had not fully taken off in the critical areas of economic diversification.
Yusuf stated, “While we are happy that the foreign reserves are rising as a result of increase in oil prices, this budget will only be implemented if the federal administration is efficient. It is still inefficient because the revenue institutions are not performing to the expectation of the budget.
“The reason why the revenue institutions are not performing is because we have ‘fiscalised’ our revenue bases, because without installing ‘fiscalisation’ devices, we will not get the revenue that will support the expenditure of the budget.”
In his submission, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce said Nigeria had downgraded its economy because the country could not meet its revenue projections.
He stated that while it was called a budget of consolidation, it was rather a budget of active imagination.
Murray-Bruce added, “If you look at the budgets from 1960 to the present one, you have agencies that were designed for 1960; agencies that were designed for Nigeria’s civil war; agencies that were designed to suit some certain conditions in life.
“Sixty years later, those agencies still exist in the budget. If you look at the budget, you will see some agencies, they get recurrent expenditure, they pay salaries, they get houses, computers, cars etc., but they have no money to do any work. No money to do any work but we pay salaries. Some agencies are so bloated it defies logic, but these agencies exist. So, we have 2.4 million people consuming 60 per cent of the recurrent expenditure of Nigeria. It doesn’t make any sense.
“I called former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo on the phone two days ago and he said to me, ‘The National Orientation Agency was necessary when we had no political party, what is the value of the National Orientation Agency in today’s world for instance? Yet billions of naira is spent on that agency.’
“Let us look at agencies that make no sense: the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, sell it to the staff. The FRCN has 8,000 workers, sell it to them. Sell Nigerian Television Authority to the staff. Voice of Nigeria, who listens to the VON? Sell it. If the staff want to buy, let them buy it. Set up a cooperative like (the late Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Obafemi) Awolowo did, sell it to them. If we spend 71 per cent on recurrent expenditure, we will never get out of this predicament in which we find ourselves.”
The lawmaker further said he wrote to the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to ask him to send details of the contract deal he had with the Chinese.
Murray-Bruce stated, “Let’s say we spend $10bn with the Chinese and they give us a loan, what percentage of that money is spent on the local economy? How many Nigerians are employed? Which steel products are we producing locally? The last time I checked, the rail lines were produced 300 to 400 years ago. It’s not rocket science, we have Ajaokuta steel.
“So, if we have the capability of producing steel or we have the capability of making this work as Nigerians, we don’t need to borrow $10bn from the Chinese and then give them back the $10bn. What do we benefit in our economy?”
Murray-Bruce stressed that the United Nations had projected that by February 2018, Nigeria would have more people in poverty than India.
“We have a population of 180 million people, India has 1.3 billion. Then, if we are going to have more people in poverty than India, then we have to create jobs. Once we create jobs we can then export our naira to China, to India or some other places,” he added.
Similarly, the Deputy Whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena dismissed the projection for non-oil revenue in the proposed 2018 budget as impossible.
He said, “For you to diversify and rely on non-oil revenue, that sector must be developed. The proposed non-oil revenue cannot be realised. That is why what you put (estimates) in the budget is not realisable. And I agree with Senator (Gbenga) Ashafa that there is nothing to show the people. People don’t believe in our budget.
“As Senator Abaribe was saying, which I agree with to some extent, there is no need to raise the hope of Nigerians to say we are estimating N8.6tn whereas the execution is zero. If we say the budget is N3tn and execution is N3tn, it is better than N10tn and the execution is revenue shortfall.”
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in his remarks, thanked the lawmakers for keeping their language clean during the debate.
He also stated that without maximal revenue generation by relevant government agencies, there would not be adequate funds to finance expenditures.
Ekweremadu said, “We must point out in the course of the debate how we will be able to reduce the deficit. Ben Murray-Bruce has told us that some government agencies should not be in existence anymore, including the Voice of Nigeria, which nobody is listening to. We need to point out some of these MDAs that are of no consequence or adding no value to Nigeria so that we don’t keep spending money on them. That is the way we will be able to reduce the ratio between the capital and the recurrent (expenditures), and of course reduce the deficit.
“I hope the government will listen to such exposures and be able to do away with such agencies. If the government fails to remove those agencies from our budget, we have a responsibility to Nigerians to bring bills in order to repeal the laws setting up those agencies and stop wastage of our resources.”
In the House of Representatives, members criticised the executive over what they termed “discouraging” implementation of successive budgets passed by the National Assembly.
They expressed their disappointment as the House opened debate on the 2018 Appropriation Bill at a session presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on November 7 laid a proposal of N8.612tn before the National Assembly for 2018.
However, the current 2017 budget of N7.441tn is still running, with only N450bn so far released for capital projects. The budget has a capital provision of over N2.2tn.
The implementation of the budget had commenced in June with an extension granted till May 2018.
Buhari had promised to raise capital implementation to at least 50 per cent (N1.1tn) by December this year.
But, with barely 33 days left to the end of the year, lawmakers expressed doubts on how the government would achieve the 50 per cent if in six months (June-November), it could only release N450bn.
For instance, the Chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Production Services, Mr. Mohammed Monguno, said lawmakers were usually not excited looking forward to budget debates because of lack of implementation.
Monguno, an All Progressives Congress member from Borno State, noted, “We have always performed our part as the legislature over the years in passing the budget.
“The problem is the implementation. When we pass the proposals, they are left without implementation; the next year, another one is brought again.”
Monguno recalled that though the crude oil benchmark price for the 2017 budget ($44) had been exceeded by 18 per cent, the government could still not release capital funds.
“There must be a problem somewhere, which must be solved. We have to intensify our oversight duties and continue to demand that budgets are implemented by the relevant agencies of government,” he added.
Lawmakers demand repair of Sango-Abeokuta road
Another member from Ogun State, Mr. Isiaka Ibrahim, described the budget as containing nothing tangible to address the plight of Nigerians, especially the people of his constituency in Ifo/Ekwekoro Federal Constituency.
He cited the Sango-Abeokuta Expressway as one key road the government had abandoned for several years.
Ibrahim argued that though provisions were made for the road in past budgets, including that of 2017, the project hardly took off.
The lawmaker expressed shock that in the 2018 budget, the road got no allocation.
He stated, “For me, there is nothing tangible in this budget if such a strategic road can be left unattended for years.
“There is a proposal for a hydropower station in my state, but has it been completed? The answer you get is no.”
As Ibrahim spoke, many members nodded in agreement, while others observed that the Sango-Abeokuta road was suffering the same fate as many other economically-viable roads in the country.
Lasun tried to interject by urging Ibrahim not to be too hard on the APC-led Federal Government since he was expected to behave as a loyal party man.
“You are for the APC, but you too are speaking like some of the PDP people,” Lasun told Ibrahim.
But, more attack came from an APC member from Niger State, Mr. Abubakar Chika, who observed that all the government had been able to do was to provide palliatives.
Chika stated that non-implementation of budgets had also forced members of the National Assembly to fill in the gaps by launching several poverty alleviation projects in their constituencies in order to save face.
He said, “If you look at this budget, the story is not different. Our debt servicing (N2.014tn) and deficit financing are increasing.
“Today, inflation rate in practical terms is 15 per cent, though the government claims that it is 12 per cent.”
However, the House Majority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, appealed to members to be patient with the government.
Gbajabiamila, who argued that no budget document had ever been adjudged to be perfect, urged members not to obstruct the debate.Punch